Standing-room-only attendance at the Collegiate Ministries Luncheon at the 220th General Assembly signaled a growing sense among Presbyterians that their aging and shrinking denomination must reach out more vigorously to college students.
Keynote speakers Emily Chudy and Megan Lecluyse, recent graduates of Princeton Theological Seminary, pointed to a sobering statistic: in 2008 only 8.8 percent of PC(USA) members were between the ages of 18 and 34 years old.
Chudy and Lecluyse presented research from their senior seminary thesis on the importance of communities of faith on the faith development of adolescents and emerging adults.
“Rather than continuing to ask why young adults are mostly absent from the PC(USA) today,” Chudy said, “we wanted to know why those present are actually there.”
They surveyed 370 former participants in the Summer Youth Institute at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary—a group of young adults who had grown up with a high level of church involvement. They found that more than half of those surveyed had been or were currently involved in a campus ministry, but only 6 percent of those were involved in a PC(USA) campus ministry.
All but one of the students involved in Presbyterian campus ministries continued to attend PC(USA) congregations. Two-thirds of those involved in nondenominational campus ministries, however, are no longer connected to the PC(USA).
Chudy noted that as part of the confirmation process, many congregations pair young people with adult mentors who serve as models of Christian discipleship. “What about asking them for a five-year commitment?” she suggested.
This could build relationships that would extend into the college years and keep students connected to the church. The mentors could help make sure that students get involved in campus ministries and congregations where their colleges are located.
At the conclusion of the luncheon, Adrian McMullen, the PC(USA)’s associate for college ministries, introduced UKIRK (meaning University Church), a new initiative growing out of the work of a task force that has been studying Presbyterian collegiate ministry. He called UKIRK a “new identity” or “brand” for ministries that engage congregations in ministry with students.