Here is our newsletter for June 2018. June is a quiet month around here most years and this year is was quieter than usual, which was kind of nice after all the craziness of graduation. We had a couple of activities and events, but on the whole it was a time of renewal, prayer, and learning.
We have a decent number of students who are in town for the summer, so we have still been getting together on Monday nights. We study the Bible, plan for the Fall, clean up around the building, and just goof off together. I've also been doing a surprisingly large number of counseling sessions with students over a variety of things, so that's been good. Since I have been in town all summer, I have been filling in teaching and preaching for a lot of folks while they travel. I've also been doing a lot of reading and listening to seminars and lectureships on-line and I helped organize an area-wide singing at the Gillette Church of Christ. It was the first time they had hosted an area-wide singing in 20 years and it was a great time. Folks from the Black Hills area drove a hundred miles, one-way, to go singing with our brothers and sisters in Christ for an evening, which I think is pretty cool.
However, since it was pretty quiet on the home front in June, I thought I would spend most of this letter talking about campus ministry in general. It starts out negative, but hang in there for the hope at the end. Right now there is a lot of concern for the direction Christianity is heading in America today. Christianity is doing great in other parts of the world, but all the statistics about about Christians in America are pretty dour recently. Specifically, young people and Millennials are leaving the faith in record numbers and there is a lot of ink being spilled on why they are leaving and how to bring them back. Now, I recognize my own bias here, but I believe campus ministries are the key to turning this trend around and I'll tell you why.
Our preacher man, Thomas Pruett, shared a series of blog posts with me earlier this summer that outlined the issues in a great way. The blog is by Todd Dildine, a pastor at a church in Chicago. His four-part blog series is overly-dramatically called, “The Death Of The Church” and relies heavily on a highly-scholastic book called, “Bowling Alone” by Harvard Professor Robert Putnam. So with that bit of a convoluted introduction, here is the big idea.
Putman says Christianity isn't declining in America right now; every volunteer-based community in America is declining. Since around 1960, Americans are voting less, attending churches less, eating together as families less, hosting people in their homes less, and working on community projects less. “This collapse is an epidemic” writes Dildine. Every community-based organization in America is hurting right now. He then goes on to outline his theory on why this decline is happening and it boils down to three reasons. I'm over-simplifying for space, but the big three reasons are: “Sprawl,” Technology, and a “Me” culture.
“Sprawl” is the idea that, as we get better at travel, we are spending more time in our cars than in our communities, which fragments our sense of neighborhood. Technology is changing the ways we interact with the world so fast, it is breathtaking. We recently passed the mark where the average American now spends more waking hours in the virtual world than waking hours in the real world, which gives you a glimpse as to how big the impact is on us. The “Me” Culture is a value-shift from ideas like “Duty” and “Community Engagement” to ideas like “You be you” and “Create your own meaning.”
Putman says these three big “anti-community forces” all started increasing rapidly in the 1960's and have been gaining strength ever since, which is astonishing. This theory makes a lot of sense to me and puts a lot of our cultural forces in perspective.
Interestingly, it also puts campus ministries in the forefront of the battle for community. Besides folks in nursing homes, college students are the oldest age group that consistently lives in close community with each other. They walk everywhere, their neighbors live feet away and they eat together daily. This age group is uniquely situated to bypass the affects of Sprawl. As far as Technology, college students are deeply immersed in it, perhaps more than any other age group. However, that also means they are hitting their saturation point and are beginning to crave authentic interactions outside of the virtual world. They are looking for real community. And as for the “Me” Culture, that definitely shows up in the lives of our college students as everything they do swirls around their major, their careers, and their next steps in life. However, college students are young enough that their habits aren't formed yet; if we can get them involved in helping others at this stage, they are ready to engage in a more “We” based cultural value system.
“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”
- 1 Timothy 4:12
I realize this is a strange mail out since it is less of a report and more of a theory, but I think it highlights just how important campus ministries are right now. We are at the forefront of reshaping the way people live and breathe in community with one another. If young people connect with Jesus and a faith community now, it can change their lives forever. So in the end, this is actually a thank you letter. Thank you so much for your support of our ministry! We are doing good things around here and we couldn't do it without your support. My prayer for you today is that, like Paul wrote in Ephesians 3, you may know the “breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.”
Thanks for reading!