Students struggle to find home churches

As classes begin, the first few Sundays of the semester leave many students disheartened as they give up looking for a worship community.

Only 65.1 percent of John Brown University students attend church once or more a week, according to the 2017 Spring Student Relationships Assessment, a survey conducted by the Center for Healthy Relationships. In 2016, there was 70 percent and in 2015, 71 percent.

H.G. Park, sophomore family and human services and intercultural studies double major, believes the problem starts freshmen year, when a student no longer has a parent expecting them to go to church. “It’s just people are lazy, not motivated to go to church since it’s an extra hour of waking up and getting ready to go. You can sleep in. That is a couple of excuses I use at least,” Park said.”

Although Park has yet to find a church, he is hopeful and continuing to search in his second year. “It’s been hard. The easiest thing is that there are lots of churches in this small town, but that is also the hardest thing,” he said. “There are so many churches that you don’t know where to start.”

Elizabeth Brownell, junior electrical engineering major, began her search by first attending a church with her orientation group freshman year. She was surprised at how quickly her friends found churches they enjoyed. “A main reason for their success is that students seek a place to worship with people who are not college students. JBU students seek places to serve people, as well as connect in small groups,” Brownell said.

Brownell was able to find a home at Community Christian Fellowship, but she sees the struggle that fellow students experience. “Maybe churches in Siloam didn’t feel right, and we are hesitant to commit to a church that doesn’t feel right … Chapel services are easy to go to because the worship and message are tailored to Christian college students’ needs,” she said. “Also, since we go to chapel with our friends, we don’t even have to go out of our comfort zone to meet new people like we probably would at a church in the community.”

Joel Jorgensen, senior Biblical and theological studies and history double major, has experienced and studied the process of “church shopping.” “For the average churchgoer, this, like choosing between an Android or Apple, creates a consumeristic anxiety as the choice is entirely upon the individual, but instead of what phone you get on the line, it’s your soul. Many end up forgoing the choice and don’t show up to church at all. Others might show up for the wrong reasons,” Jorgensen said.

“Going to church for the sake of going to church is a stupid idea. Church in itself is not a good thing.  This is evident throughout history. When the church sees itself as intrinsically good, typically bad things happen,” Jorgensen said. “Attending for Christ’s sake, on the other hand, and understanding that the existence of the church as a grace from God to further our faith leads to fruitful worship and allows Christians to commune with both believers and non-believers under the loving presence of Christ.”

Ultimately, Jorgensen believes that students must examine their priorities when choosing a church to attend. “If you want good music, turn on the radio.  If you want activities, join a community club.  Churches don’t need these things,” he said. “Buying into the church shopping mentality focuses everything onto you, the consumer, and that’s not what church is about. It’s not even what Christianity is about.”

Through his work with college students, Zach Morris, Associate College Pastor at Cross Church Fayetteville, witnesses how authenticity and community work to draw increasing numbers to church. “The stereotypical theme of college student life is a time of seeking out, and one of the things college students seek is truth,” Morris said. “Even as a student I felt that this church just genuinely believed and preached the Bible. For the community side, I met some of my lifelong friends here at this church and I have seen it happen in other students’ lives as well.”

The benefit of attending a local worship community is a sense of belonging and refocusing on one’s calling, which Morris finds in Hebrews 10:19-25. “Christians were not meant to walk this life alone in faith. We’re designed for community in which God uses each of us to make the other stronger by encouragement and accountability,” Morris said. “That passage calls believers to ‘watch out for one another to provoke love and good works.’ … Attending church is a weekly reminder and encouragement in worship with God together of how we truly get to have joy in life and why we live for Jesus.”

Morris advises students not to lose hope in their search. “Just be intentional and seek a church that is just as intentional in caring about you. Find a church that believes the gospel of Jesus Christ and its mission fully, preaches the Word genuinely, and equips you to be a disciple who makes disciples that makes disciples in the love of Jesus,” Morris said. “Sometimes it’s the first church you go to, and other times it takes a few trips to a few different churches, but where those things line up and you feel like you belong, stay, serve, and see what God has for you there.”