College ministries explore new techniques to reach millennials

By JR Smith, Studio M staff // 

As the college pastor at Third Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Duane Geib routinely treks to MTSU to talk to “unchurched” college students about the Bible. However, he says the talks have become increasingly difficult.

Getting students to a college ministry to worship has become increasingly difficult for college ministers in recent years. (Photo by Erin Rempel/Flickr)

“The generation of college students right now, they’re probably a little jaded about church,” Geib said. “So we really want our students in our ministry to just be real [to other students].”

Across the MTSU campus – and the United States as a whole – college students, even some who once were Christian, are leaving religion. Churches are struggling to figure out how to reach them, even issuing step-by-step guides on how to attract millennial members.

It also doesn’t help the 3BC college group, at least in the eyes of the public, that their group is smaller, with about a dozen students meeting each week. Geib, a glass-half-full kind of person, sees this small group as an advantage.

“We are very relationally driven. We’re not event-driven,” Geib said. “We try to do things on campus that reflect who we are.”

This relationship-driven idea is one the Experience Community college group, located in Murfreesboro, uses as well. However, there is a slight difference in the two groups. 3BC, while a large church, pales in comparison to the “megachurch” feel of Experience, whose attendance regularly reaches 2,000 people.

At first, the “Experience” college group tried to model their college meetings after the worship services, but it quickly changed its mind. This, according to Experience Community Family Pastor Patrick Black, makes their smaller college group setting unique.

“College ministry for most churches is the front door for college students to get involved with the church,” Black says. “For our church … the weekend service fits [the students]. Which is why I think when we did weekly gatherings, they didn’t go well [because the atmosphere is different].”

The group, which meets once a month now, also takes a different approach in what is taught when they meet. Today’s culture, which is progressively moving away from the Bible, is reflected in their devotionals.

“We’re very real and very transparent, very raw,” Black said. “I think that age group right now wants to [be real]… not a facade that the church as a whole has portrayed over the years.”

According to a Lifeway Research study, about 70% of young adults who grew up attending church drop out, although a few return later in life. “Keeping out the fluff” and keeping the Bible feel like real life, as Black also said, has been very helpful with that ministry, and keeping the percentage of dropouts down.

Another group trying to keep students involved in college ministry is MT316. Funded by North Boulevard Church of Christ, the group is a church that’s explicitly for college students, a concept that is uncommon in Murfreesboro.

“The mission was a lot more clearer than a lot of campus ministries,” said Cole Skaggs, an MTSU student and Worship Production Assistant at MT316. “There’s definitely a bigger focus … on reaching the lost more than just recruiting current believers.”

This church in particular is unique just by its name alone. Many Churches of Christ are closing their doors in the United States, and others are struggling to attract younger members. Another block for the churches is that most sing a capella, a foreign concept to many college students.

However, MT316 tries to keep up with the times.

“We have services at 5 p.m., and those services are more contemporary and modern than most Churches of Christ,” Skaggs said. “We have a praise team, and we have a beatboxer. It’s just much more informal.”

Even with several ministries that reach out on the MTSU campus, many students do not attend college ministries at all.

Geib sees this as an opportunity.

“Every campus has a lock, and we’ve got to find a key to it to do ministry,” Geib said. “We haven’t found the key yet to unlock the ministry [at MTSU].”

JR Smith is a sophomore majoring in Multimedia Journalism and minoring in Secondary Education at Middle Tennessee State University.

Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

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