The faith disconnect that occurs when Christian high school students make the transition to college or career (Lifeway Research’s survey from August 2007 shows the dropout rate at 70 percent) is not necessarily something that students plan. The problem is usually that students do not have a mature faith that they will continue to nurture when they are away from the influence of their parents.
“There is a lot of relational decision making among that age group,” says Jim Lundgren, InterVarsity’s senior vice president and director of Collegiate Ministries. So that means the activities of peers, friends, and dorm-mates are usually the kinds of activities incoming freshmen end up getting involved with. “Researchers have found that there’s not a whole lot of difference between lifestyles of Christians and non-Christians in that age group or in their actual operating beliefs,” he added.
The faith dropout rate is a challenge to InterVarsity and other campus ministries. But it’s also a challenge to the church and its youth ministries, and every parent with teenagers. Responding directly to the challenge is a new coalition called the Youth Transition Network (YTN), which includes InterVarsity, plus many other Christian organizations and denominations. The goal of YTN is to help students make the transition to adulthood with the students’ faith in God intact.
Jim Lundgren is a member of YTN’s College Team and is anticipating that working with YTN will amplify the work of InterVarsity and other on-campus ministries. “One thing YTN has proven is that the name recognition of groups like InterVarsity, Campus Crusade, and Navigators, among high school students is very low,” he says.
YTN has developed motivational tools for youth leaders and parents to help prepare youth for their transition. Jeff Schadt, founder of YTN, says “Research is showing that our youth are unprepared for the challenges and changes in responsibility that they’ll face in this transition.
To assist students in making a sound, relational transition, YTN has developed a website LiveAbove.com. The website currently has 4,700 ministries listed on 3,000 campuses, ready to proactively connect with high school seniors before they leave home.
“Students that are prepared and motivated are using LiveAbove.com to connect with the ministries available on the campus where they’re heading,” Jeff said. “This relational connection, before they arrive on campus, helps ensure that the other relational decisions, after they arrive on campus, will not disrupt the tie to Christian ministries and friends.”
YTN’s records show that in the first year of operation, 271 students have already used LiveAbove.com to connect with InterVarsity staff on various campuses.
Jim guesses that roughly half of college students are not interested in faith issues. InterVarsity doesn’t ignore them; we do have activities designed to move them to reconsider their perspective. A very small percentage of students do come to college with an interest in maintaining their Christian faith, and they do seek out groups like InterVarsity. But then there’s a third group of students who have an undeveloped faith background.
“They would like to continue being a Christian, but they don’t know anything about campus ministry,” Jim says. “They would never think to look on the Campus Crusade website, or the InterVarsity website, or for a Navigators chapter or an InterVarsity chapter. YTN is actively marketing to them in a way that we’re not able to. This is the group that makes me most interested in YTN.”
Some Christian parents want their children to attend a Christian college or university, so that they can attend classes in an environment designed to encourage their faith. But Christian parents who send their children to a secular college or university now have, in YTN, an effective tool to connect them with active ministries like InterVarsity who are present on many of those campuses.