But too often campus organizations and local churches fail to meet the needs of the students they both serve.

For all the successes and enthusiasm displayed by university groups of Christians, there exists a serious flaw.

These groups are effectively preparing students for participation in evangelism, in group Bible studies, and for the development of healthy personal devotional habits. In addition, some campus groups have sought to help students develop a more thoroughly Christian world view.

But student organizations should not be seen as ends in themselves; they exist on behalf of, and as a result of, the church. The New Testament witness indicates that a small group (as in Matt. 18:20) is not a church. John Stott, for example, has remarked that students should beware of regarding an “InterVarsity chapter as a church.” There exists a vital distinction between the two, though the proper functioning of the former as an extension of the church is perfectly in order. More basically, members of ad hoc Christian groups, as genuine believers, are part of Christ’s church universal.

Therefore, a campus Christian group’s long-term effectiveness should be measured largely “not in terms of numbers attending meetings, nor even of the numbers of those converted, but by the number of its former members who, as a result of its teaching and training, become useful and fruitful members of local congregations when they graduate or qualify.”

“The real test of student group effectiveness,” insists English churchman, college administrator, and former missions executive Michael Griffiths, “is whether or not the group is preparing the members properly for the role they will need to play in a local congregation for the next 50 years.”

I am not attacking the marvelous work done on behalf of Jesus Christ and his church (sadly, in cases, because the church had no vision) by university Christian groups. And I believe that most, if not all, organizations—nondenominational and the denominationally affiliated alike—include the goal of “preparation for churchmanship” as part of their ministry rationale. But too many of the leaders of these groups possess few effective strategies for accomplishing such a goal. I suspect that the goal of helping students “become fruitful members of local congregations” is not being attained because it lies near the bottom of the groups’ actual priorities.

The following situations highlight the problem:

• The adult campus representative plans the yearly calendar for the group’s activities with student leaders. No consultation with local church leaders takes place. Students are encouraged to spend two entire weekends per semester, for instance, on their group’s retreat, thereby absenting themselves from worship services. Local churches may discover such a schedule too late adequately to plan special events that include students.

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• Members of student groups are perpetually challenged to participate in varieties of activities sponsored by their Christian group: weekly large group meetings for teaching, cell group meetings, special training events, evangelism outreach, one-to-one discipleship relationships, and so on. As a result, most students hesitate to offer themselves for service in a local congregation; they are already too busy.

• Adult campus leaders do not specifically encourage participation by the students in churches.

• Local churches do little to encourage student involvement, either by the pastoral staff or lay leaders.

• Local churches allow the myth of spectatorism to persist by not expecting more of students than simply their observer status in worship services.

• Literature published by the students’ Christian group’s organization includes little instruction on the nature of the church or participation in it. Christian students are not only learning to undervalue the church during their student days, they are also forming bad church habits that may seriously impair their lifelong usefulness to the church of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the role of the campus student group has been magnified to the detriment both of its individual members and the local congregation. Though he did not foresee our century’s university climate, the apostle Paul argued forcefully for the necessary inclusion and functioning of all members in a church body. Much as no one would wish to be without a vital bodily function indefinitely, so we should not encourage a temporary disharmony in the church body while certain members stop contributing their functions. (Can you imagine your human body lacking the use of its right thumb for four years?) The result is disharmony and a crippling of total effectiveness on behalf of the kingdom of God.

Practical benefits will result as students become acquainted and involved with local congregations. Here are a few:

• Campus-led studies can be supplemented with a systematic teaching ministry by the local church.

• Students can fill gaps in many ministries of the church such as music, education, club activities for children, community service and outreach, neighborhood evangelism, special events, and drama.

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• As they participate, students can gain a feel for what they enjoy and where their skills and gifts lie.

• Through deeper involvement, students, by their youthful enthusiasm, can encourage and stimulate the local church.

• Students may gain a deeper friendship with adults who can then vouch for their abilities and character on job résumés or applications for missionary service.

• The local church may offer a diversity of fellowship that is not normally available on campus, which is conducive to Christian growth.

• Students can gain experience in the life of the local congregation that will prepare them for later participation.

What can we all do to develop better ties between church and university students? Here are suggested first steps:

• Campus leaders should prayerfully plan strategies to encourage participation in the life of local churches. Denominational leaders will find natural avenues for accomplishing this aim.

• Nondenominational leaders of university groups should insure that their personal involvement in a local church is worthy of the example it most certainly sets for the students.

• Pastoral staff should encourage a kind of student membership (affiliate) while young people are away from home churches.

Church leadership should redesign ministry opportunities away from 12-month, weekly commitments toward some that are flexible, thereby encouraging student involvement.

• Church leaders should create special events or programs to recognize students or acquaint them with church families or ministries: host family programs, hosting students for a day; “welcome back” luncheons for returning students; “have a good year” luncheons for departing students; telephone canvasses of students who prove to be regular attenders during fall quarter.

• Biannual gatherings of campus representatives and church leadership might be held for mutual upbuilding and communication.

• Church families should engage in active financial and prayer support for the local university Christian group(s).

In our youth ministries, as elsewhere, let us hold firmly to our commitment to build Christ’s church through local congregations.

Mr. Hawkins is director of Christian education at Blacknall Memorial Presbyterian Church, Durham, North Carolina.

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