Siloam Springs has a church on practically every corner for students to explore and settle into during their four years at John Brown University.
But what happens when that does not work out? What about students who never find a church they are comfortable with? Is that a valid option?
University Chaplain Rod Reed said the University can sometimes send mixed messages to students.
“Chapel can feel like church,” he said. “Here we can target services specifically at college students.”
While students may feel that time in chapel is enough, Reed said it is also important to take part in a local church body.
Participating in the community of a local church offers a more diverse experience of the body of Christ, he said and through interactions with people of various ages, walks of life, education and so on, students have the opportunity to see God differently than they would by only attending chapel.
Reed added that the church also provides an authority structure that can guide the spiritual lives of students, although it is not often something Christians think about.
“When people become part of a church, they place themselves under a pastor who is then accountable to God for those people,” he said.
Freshman Ariana Odom agrees with Reed. She said finding a church was “more important than anything.” So far, Odom had visited three churches during her time at the University but had not settled on one. In February, she attended Second Baptist Church in Siloam Springs, which she now plans to attend regularly.
For Odom, the church search process was complicated by the fact that she is hard of hearing. Thus, she needed a church which offered a system for her to have the audio sent to a headphone in her ear. She said there are not many churches in the area that have that.
After spending a semester without a church home to call her own, Odom said she missed having the fellowship of a church family, as she had at her Baptist church back home in Bella Vista, Ark. She added that while the messages in chapel were usually good, she missed hearing deeper messages from longer sermons at church.
Junior Carla Penate has also had a difficult time finding a church where she feels comfortable. She said she wanted to attend a church similar to her one at home in El Salvador, but after three years she is still looking.
She described how during worship at her home church the congregation uses applause and dancing. She also mentioned that her church has a discipleship class for people to take before being baptized or taking communion.
Reed had a few suggestions for University students who were trying to find a local church here. First of all, he said, it is important to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect church, and that choosing one was better than not attending at all.
Secondly, he encouraged students that college is a great time to discover more about where they are with God and what they personally believe. In light of that, he suggested they try something new, such as visiting a different type of church than they had ever attended.
Finally, Reed reminded students that wherever they choose to plug into during college is probably a temporary place for this season of their lives.
Reed drew an analogy between spiritual development and physical nourishment. He said that University chapel services were like the cafeteria approach to spiritual life. Students can be picky about what they “eat” at University events. Involvement in the local church, however, was like having a home-cooked meal.
The church offers more balance in a student’s spiritual diet, Reed continued. It is important to stay involved in the family life and patterns of a home rather than only eating what one prefers.