United States (MNN) – It’s the final day of Urbana 18, the largest student missions conference in North America. But why hold a missions conference now? After all, today’s college generations are possibly some of the least churched in North America. Plus, there has already been 75 years of the triennial Urbana conferences. And last year, the Christian Post reported 31 percent of freshmen identify as non-religious.
Why Missions Conferences Matter
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s President Tom Lin says rather than growing up unchurched, some students were raised with ‘moralistic therapeutic deism’. Now, InterVarsity works more and more with spiritually young believers or non-believers.
Still, Lin does not see this as a reason to skip out on catalytically moving this generation to live for Jesus.
“When we think about the missions, the Urbana student missions conference, we don’t view it as a transactional experience…but, there’s something about the presence of a global community all together, thousands of students together, sharing this experience together,” Lin says.
“A lot of our Christian students today… feel very isolated on campus, marginalized. To be here at a conference where there are many like-minded believers who are asking similar questions, wrestling with similar issues, and marginalized as well on their campuses, there’s something very encouraging about it…being a part of a global community is a big part of the Urbana experience.”
Urbana 18 Experience
Urbana 18 provides a chance for students to set aside five days to immerse themselves in scripture. It is also a chance to questions like “What is God’s calling in my life?” or “What is missions about?” and “What opportunities are there?” Urbana 18 helps students dig into these questions while also helping them cast a vision.
“It’s a generation that has access to information, so they know a lot. Our job in ministry or missions is not so much give them more information, but what I consider the most important is giving them vision. What does it mean to give them vision for what they could do with their lives? Vision for what God might want to do with their lives? Vision for what’s in scripture. Being able to understand God’s vision for the world,” Lin says.
“I think those kinds of things we want to emphasize more than just pure information.”
But what makes this generation unique is their challenges. Young students lack hope. News reports provide a steady stream of stories representing the hopelessness the world faces. Couple that with the constant access to enormous amounts of information and a life bordering over-sensitization, and processing it all can be difficult and anxiety-inducing. In fact, Lin says college institutions are encountering an increase in students seeking mental health needs.
In short, this is a generation dealing with a constant data flow primarily of brokenness. However, Christ is our ultimate hope. Let’s help these students chase God and dig into His calling on their life.
Help support students by offering encouragement. Commit to pray with and for a student in your life. Offer to debrief with a student returning from Urbana 18. Come alongside them as they put into action the things they learned during the conference.
Also, pray for this conference and the way it impacts and moves students. Pray for the challenges these students face such as debt, lack of a supportive community, and much more. Ask God to lead these students into immediate application of what they learned during their five days in St. Louis, Missouri. Pray for these students’ courage and boldness to live a missional lifestyle. Finally, pray against the spiritual attack these students face.
Note: Urbana 18 is available for streaming for a period after the conference ends.
Header photo courtesy of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.