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Do college students neglect church?

By Kayla Lawson| Opinions Editor
On December 6, 2017

While many college students find solace and safety in attending their places of worship, there is a disparity between how much they worship when they are away at college and when they are at home.

According to the research company Barna, today’s millennials have record lows of habitual church attendance. In 2014, 59 percent of people born between 1984 and 2002 that were raised within a religious community said they hadn’t been to their respective place of worship for at least six months.

“I went to church more when I was home because I was surrounded by family, which gave me that extra push to go and caused me to be more involved. I alternate churches depending on the week, but I haven’t found a true church home yet so I don’t go that often,” said third-year Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) student Asia Strong.

There are many reasons that some millennials visit religious services less when they are away at college. Dr. Aaron Treadwell, FAMU Professor of Religion and Senior Pastor, feels that millennials are not attending worship services because technology is giving them the answers to questions that religious leaders are not.

“Technology has provided an access to education, this includes the theological and esoteric questions that motivate the quest for Christian truths. What makes me a good person? Where do we come from? As long as students’ religious journeys are guided by attaining answers to such questions as quick as possible, millennial membership will continually decrease.”

FAMU’s Philosophy and Religion Department Chair and Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dr. Darryl Scriven, believes that religious participation is lower amongst college students because they are expressing their newfound independence.

“In a lot of ways it’s about freedom and autonomy.  For many students, it was always a family expectation that they would attend religious services 1-2 times a week, so the ability to choose how their time is spent is a new and exciting experience.”   

Dr. Scriven was also a university chaplain at Wilberforce University, meaning he conducted religious services for the school. He stated that some students tend to avoid going to worship services while in college because they prefer to only worship in a place they are familiar with.

“Students, surrounded by new people and experiences, seek what reminds them of home. Some feel discomfort exploring new kinds of worship spaces for fear of violating what they believe.”

First-year healthcare management student Alyssia Mike's is an example of someone who prefers to worship in their hometown.

“I don’t go to church here as much as I do when I’m home because I can’t find an apostolic church. I went to Family Worship and Praise Center and I liked it and their message, but there are a lot of differences between their service and the services I attended growing up. They are a lot more interactive here. They do more worship songs than praise songs, and they do a lot of skits which I’m still trying to get used to.”

Although local religious institutions near FAMU take extra measures to entice college students to come to services, such as providing shuttles to on-campus residence halls and having food giveaways, there is still more that could be done to bring current Rattlers into their congregations.

Dr. Treadwell believes that Christian churches specifically must “change with the times” and learn how to communicate the message effectively using 21st century tools like the internet.

“If a church has neither a website nor a digital platform that describes its purpose, intent, and theology, it subsequently is failing the 'Great Commission',” said Dr. Treadwell.

“The Great Commission” refers to the Christian belief that Jesus Christ instructed His disciples to spread His teachings, according to All About Jesus Christ.

FAMU student Alyssia Mikes stated that places of worship that are near to campus should communicate their events better and host more events on campus such as gospel choir performances, trivia nights, or meet and greets with food.

Dr. Scriven also agreed that local religious institutions need to be a more physical presence on campus.

“They can connect with the campus beyond Sunday and midweek services.  Students are dynamic and need spaces to honestly share their development without judgment or fear.  Also, helping students connect to the community in service projects will go a long way to validate the messages taught and draw students toward places that make a definite and lasting impact.”

While there are certain obstacles keeping college students from going to religious services, there are many reasons that religious students should continue to worship even though they are away from home.

“You don’t want to go to school and lose your faith. I have the Bible app and I follow pages on Twitter that tweet different scriptures, it’s easy to incorporate religion into your life through social media nowadays,” said Mikes.

Dr. Scriven emphasized that participating in communal praise can give college students peace of mind and a support system.

“Worship experiences help keep students grounded spiritually and socially.  Sometimes school can be stressful and overwhelming.  Collective worship can be a stabilizing force and bring perspective in a time where students are discovering who they are what they'd like to pursue in life.”

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