You know what’s great about college? It’s a time of adventure. This is the stage of life to reinvent yourself, refine your skills, and build lifetime relationships. The sheer amount of different people and perspectives you’ll encounter in college truly makes it a unique experience. College is also notorious for being intellectually, academically and philosophically rigorous. So, how does faith fit into this? How can you stay Christian in college despite tight schedules and outside influences?
Speaking from experience, it was not a straight point A to point B journey. It’s a twisty-turny road where you’ll fall into doubt, feel guilty, question your motives, and ultimately have to make a decision: choose your faith because you’re just used to it, or because it truly makes you feel connected to God.
Moving Away for College
I was 20 years old when I moved away from home for college. It was only two hours north of my parents, but I lived all alone and I was finally…independent. The change was jarring. I had never lived away from home and I’d had the same set of friends since childhood. Nothing felt like my previous life. I had no friends and no usual hangouts.
I was independent but so alone, and a hectic schedule that was constantly changing made me feel like I was fighting an uphill battle all by myself. I wasn’t prepared to deal with so many different people who weren’t afraid to state their opinions, especially opinions about religion.
Being a Christian College Student
As a sociology major, I had heard it all a few months in: God exists, God doesn’t exist, we find God in ourselves, there are many gods, faith is imaginary, religion causes wars, religious people are close-minded, religious people are humanity’s only hope…I was absorbing it all with an impressionable mind. Who was right? Although I knew in my heart everything I learned as a Christian, the voices of young passionate students are anything but easy to ignore.
There was also the question of worldly vices. Everyone was experimenting and looking for ways to ease the stress of school work. Oftentimes after study groups, my classmates would invite me out for a drink before heading home. I was never a drinker, so it was easy for me to decline. But I admit there were times our discussions and banter were so fun I wished I could extend the night by hanging out longer.
I was part of such a strange world where everyone argue constructively during the day and hung out and had fun together at night.
Staying Close to God while in College
My refuge was in the only thing that was familiar in an unfamiliar place: the Church. While it took me a while to feel comfortable, my new community of Church members became my home away from home.
Twice a week, I knew I had a standing appointment to attend worship service, which helped ease into my new life away from home. They will probably never truly know how much they helped me. In addition to providing emotional support, they gave me a sense of family, and they never failed to remind me that God should never be pushed aside, no matter the circumstance.
But this is not everyone’s story. I know many of my peers didn’t fare as well. Even some of my classmates admitted to losing faith in college. They confessed to me that their new surroundings didn’t inspire the same “religious” mindset that they were used to.
So why do Christian students lose their faith in college?
According to a LifeWay survey, “66% of Americans between 23 and 30 years old said they stopped attending church on a regular basis for at least a year after turning 18.” Other studies say many attribute this loss of religion to having a new “college experience” separate from their family home. Many lose track and simply don’t find attending church important anymore.
How can you make sure that your faith stays intact when you embark on a new stage in life?
Here are my 6 tips on staying close to God in College:
Your prep starts a year before, even before the application process. Before even applying, check out what your potential new neighborhood looks like. Is there a worship building near where you plan to live? The Church Of Christ has places of worship located in communities across North America; all you have to do is type in your address to find the nearest one. What are the different modes of transportation you can take? Let these answers weigh in on your ultimate decision.
2. Grow in your faith and seek guidance from the Bible.
College is a time for self-discovery and learning about the world around you, and it’s the perfect time to connect with a minister to help you bridge any gaps between what you might be learning at school and what the Bible says. Growing in faith means constantly learning! Don’t be afraid to ask the pressing questions you have about faith. Knowledge is power!
3. Ask for help through prayer.
Feeling overwhelmed? Big transitions like this are stressful. Failure is common in college. It’s easy to feel alone, but the truth is that you aren’t. Don’t hesitate to ask for advice from God and from a minister of the gospel.
Seek comfort in prayer. Ask God to show you the right decisions to make. Even if you’re still waiting for the answer, just getting it off your chest and vocalizing your problem to God might help. Many college students continue their family prayers by video calling their family back home and praying together. This will help you stay connected to your family emotionally and spiritually.
4. Make friends and build a support system.
First things first. Once you get to your destination, you’ll soon be going to your first Church service in your new location. This is your chance to introduce yourself to members of the congregation and youth group leaders. They’re there to help and connect you with young adults at Church!
Getting out of your comfort zone is unnerving at times, but you’ll soon feel the familiarity of Christian brotherhood. In the same vein, make Christian friends at school, like-minded people who can help keep you on track and will understand where you’re coming from.
5. Make faith a priority.
Get inspired every day and watch inspiring stories or get up to date on what good deeds are happening around the world. The great thing about the Church of Christ is that it’s the same everywhere. The people and chapels look different, but this Sunday’s worship service in Connecticut will learn the same lesson as the one in Nice, France.
As much as graduation is the ultimate goal of college, I knew salvation was the ultimate goal of my faith. Both spiritual and intellectual education require maintenance and evaluation. Worship days are more important than midterms.
6. Be an example.
Don’t just stay Christian in college, be a Christian in college. Let’s face it, religion is taboo for others, but the gift of faith is nothing to hide.
Wear it proudly and show the world what Christians are really like by how you carry yourself and your work ethic. Print out and share your favorite verses while you’re at it.
Choosing God in College
This is your chance to really, truly choose God. Maybe when you were younger, your parents or family chose for you, and it became a habit. But being on your own–having to make your own decisions about who you want to be and how to shape that person–will test you. This first taste of adulthood will force you to think about what faith means to you, reflect on the role God plays in your life, and how to keep that relationship intact.
I remember hearing in one of the worship service lessons what is written in Matthew 6:31-33 (TLB), which states:
Choosing to prioritize God despite all the other options and responsibilities I had to balance took a real conscious effort. It so easy to lose yourself and get all confused, but always having Him in mind will keep you moving in the right direction.
Learning from failure
In the end, it took failing a class to remind me that prayer can lift me out of a dark place. It was an important class, that I spent many nights poring over the material and re-writing papers, but the information just wasn’t clicking with me. I spent that quarter questioning my abilities and choice of major. I was thankful I had God to lean on and listen to my troubles. The following quarter, I took fewer classes and amped up my efforts in local Church activities, which was just the right amount of inspiration and mental shift I needed to approach the next quarter (and retake the class).
Wondering if God’s words can have a similar effect on you? Learn how the Bible can help you answer the questions you have about life and how it can change your focus to see what really matters.
About the Writer:
This blog was written by Denise Alignay with biblical support by Richard Juatco, a Minister of the Gospel of the Church Of Christ. Denise graduated from the University of California, Davis in 2006 with a major in Sociology and a minor in Education. Being a Christian in college led her to her true dream of sharing Christian stories. Currently, faith and prayer are definitely helping her navigate through the rough and tumble waters of parenting.
Richard Juatco has been an ordained minister in the Church Of Christ (Iglesia Ni Cristo) since 2014.