By Steven Grahmann

Your Faith Can’t Survive College

“Can my faith survive college?”

Whether or not you’ve said this out loud, it’s a question a lot of future college freshmen are asking this month as they think about leaving home for the first time and stepping onto campus in a few short weeks. And there’s a good reason they’re asking—the university can be a tough place for your faith to survive.

In college, you’ll be out from under the protection of your parents and your youth group. Your belief in Jesus and what he says will be questioned, and maybe even mocked, by many different people—even some of your professors. All sorts of temptations will be right there in front of your face, and they’ll be considerably more intense than they were in high school. And you may experience loneliness and depression. Many college students do. In short, it’s going to be extremely difficult for your faith to survive your college years.

Not surviving. Thriving.

But if you’re interested in your faith doing more than just surviving—if, say, you’re looking for a place where your faith can thrive—then the college campus is the place for you.

I’m speaking from personal experience here. I entered my freshman year as a nominal Christian; I was a good kid, I’d read some of my Bible and periodically followed what it said, I went to church most Sundays. But I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to last long as that kind of Christian in college. So I made some decisions early on that allowed Jesus to transform me, renew my campus through me, and change how I looked at the world around me. And I’ve never been the same. In fact, the best thing I ever did for my faith journey was to make the journey to, and through, college.

So let me suggest three ways you can allow your faith to thrive, instead of just survive, in the university world.

1. Make it your own.

I started college with a faith I’d inherited from my parents. While I’m forever grateful for their example, I realized about a week into my freshman year that for my relationship with Jesus to last, I had to make it mine, not theirs.

Actually, taking ownership happens with a lot of things those first couple months—how you treat money, what you choose to put into your body, how you treat other people who are different than you. This is natural; you’re getting your first real taste of independence. But you’ll find that the decisions you make during this time will influence the way you make decisions for the rest of your life. So make sure, if you’re serious about your faith, that you decide early and often to make Jesus a priority in your life. Not because anyone told you to, but because you want to. 

2. Find a family.

The thing that will shape your college experience the most—more than your major, more than the part-time job you get to pay your tuition, more than the all-you-can-eat dorm cafeteria threatening to pack 15 pounds onto your pre-freshman frame—is who you hang out with. In many ways you reinvent yourself during your college years, and who you become has a lot to do with who you spend time with, who influences you, and who you influence.

My college career—and my life—was altered for the extreme good when I got involved with a group of guys in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship my freshman year. Seek out InterVarsity (or any other solid, Bible-believing, outward-focused Christian organization) as soon as you step foot on campus, or even before. You won’t regret finding a new family that will challenge and support you in your walk with Christ.

3. Press into the hard times and mature.

College is hard (have I said it enough yet?). You’ll feel that strongly and often during this coming year. You may be tempted to hide or retreat or quit; lots of people do. But the difficulty of college is precisely why I believe your faith can thrive there.

James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Hiding, retreating, or quitting may be less difficult, but they’re also ways of cheating yourself out of the real work God wants to do in you these next two to four (or more!) years. He wants to teach you to persevere, to mature, to thrive. So press into the difficult times (with your personal faith and new family alongside), and get ready for your faith to enter levels it never has before.

Don’t wait.

With those tips in mind, determine in your heart right now, before you step onto your campus this fall, that you’ll allow Jesus to deepen your relationship with him in college. That decision will forever change your freshman year, and the rest of your life.

What are you most nervous about as you think about your first year at college? How do these three tips address those fears?

Steven Grahmann is the Area Director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Arizona and has been on staff for 13 years. He lives in Flagstaff with his wife, Jessica, and two boys. And he still remembers his freshman year like it was yesterday, since it was one of the best years of his life.

You might also be interested in “6 Tips for Thriving in Transition.” Or read about the significance of one InterVarsity alumni’s freshman year.

Find an InterVarsity chapter on your campus.


What an excellent article that says it succinctly yet thoroughly. These three quick tips formed the foundation for my brand new life in Christ, which was born in me 25 years ago. Raised in a secular humanistic Jewish household, I was introduced to Jesus as the Messiah two weeks before I returned to school for my sophomore year. The friend who led me to the Lord feared that my new faith would be eaten alive by the big, bad, secular U. But family friends of my best friend knew an IV staff worker at Michigan, and within a month of being born again I was a successful, if "pre-ripened", fruit of New Student Outreach. If only it were always that easy to become rooted and mature continually in the "real world" after college! May I therefore be so bold as to offer a #4 and #5? #4: Bear in mind that you will almost assuredly go your separate ways from the vast majority of your college Christian family within a few years. Prepare for this by practicing good habits and discipline, seeking discipleship and accountability, and entering into leadership and mentoring relationships where possible. All of this will prepare you for the eventuality of challenges to that discipline when you are much more busy after college, and for the possibility that fellowship will be harder to find. It may also help you to be the one to create and encourage fellowship wherever you find yourself (which is never out of the Lord's sight and hand). And #5: If you know someone who is headed off to college (such as a high school student at your church, a friend's son or daughter, or your own child), make inquiries. See if there is a particular person already on campus (a staff worker, older student, minister or chaplain) to whom you can refer that student. See also whether you can contact the on campus person to alert them that the student will be headed their way. Another friendly face, especially from a brother or sister in Christ, is always a blessing to a new college student! Thanks again for the wonderful reminder that Christ is alive and thriving on campus!

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