Presbyterians involved with college ministry gathered at the 219th General Assembly (2010) to discuss their work and those they serve.
The keynote speaker, the Rev. Stephen Hayner, president of Columbia Theological Seminary, has worked with 18- to 25-year-olds for 40 years.
Young adults are motivated people who can change the world, and young adulthood is a time of exploration and discernment, Hayner said. “It’s one of the most energetic, imaginative, critical times in all of our lives.”
But from a Presbyterian standpoint, college students are one of the most underserved groups in the United States, and college pastors and chaplains are often under-resourced, unacknowledged and lonely.
Hayner cited several studies of young adults, especially as they relate to faith. Fewer students entering college say they believe in God, and the PC(USA) has the lowest retention rate of young adults.
Many Presbyterians think of college as a “lost time,” Hayner said. They think young adults leave the church for a few years while they are in college and return once they’re ready to marry and start families. But that’s not true — they don’t come back.
The church has to start taking young adults seriously, Hayner said. Congregations need to find a way to stay connected to college students who move away for school.
Presbyterians also need to stop worrying so much about the Presbyterian “brand.” Leaders often worry too much about reaching out to Presbyterian students or making Presbyterians out of others, but the real concern should be introducing people to Jesus.