By Aidan Bradner, WSU Multiplier
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche believed that “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” In The Lord Of The Rings, Gandalf gave Frodo Baggins a why: if he destroyed the ring, he would save middle-earth from Sauron’s wrath. Sold on the why and ready to bear any how, Frodo set out on a journey. He was struck with a poisonous blade, fought off a decaying hobbit with a ring fetish, and abandoned his friends to face the ring’s corruption alone. He pushed through every how, and finally stood at the edge of Mount Doom - a ring toss away from completing his journey. Alas, Frodo succumbed to his last how and slipped the ring on his finger, refusing to destroy it. Frodo! What! How could you!? The answer is simple. Frodo lost his why. Without a convincing why, the what and how of our lives grow increasingly irrelevant.
If you have been around Resonate Church for any length of time, you know that we put an emphasis on reaching freshmen on the college campus. You have probably even heard a decent amount about the methods and strategy we use to do it. Those who have played a part know it is taxing, sometimes awkward, and always time-consuming. In order to believe that reaching freshmen is worth our every minute, we must keep a convincing why before us.
When leaving the Eastern Mediterranean, Paul wrote to Roman Christians “But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain…” Settled in his evangelistic success, Paul departed with a clear conscience to plant churches further west.
In collegiate ministry, the words “since I no longer have any room for work in these regions” will never leave our pens. Unlike a port city in the Eastern Mediterranean, the college campus both loses a quarter of its population and gains a new quarter of its population each year. In four years, there is complete turnover - the population is brand new. This recurring new group of people is appropriately called the “freshman class.” How we think about the freshman class now will determine the health of our churches later. Allow me to introduce you.
1. Freshmen are undecided
Freshman year is the only time where it is socially acceptable for a college student to claim “undecided.” They are in a new place, independent for the first time (eh… kind of) and exploration is not just optional, but encouraged.
What we have seen is that even the “decided” freshman is undecided. It is common to see a freshman who was dead-set on their future plans graduate and head in an opposite direction. The point is, every freshman is undecided; and it is not just about their career path.
For every indecision there is a decision-making process. A post-college study found that “grads working for large companies rank a supervisor who will mentor and coach as their top priority besides interesting and challenging work.” In other words, the freshman class actually wants us to come alongside them and help in their decision-making processes.
Freshman year is by far the most formative year in college. We believe the first decisions made in college have lasting effects on a student’s future. As they make decisions, the people surrounding them hold more sway than we give credit. Unlike their hungover friend who studies obscure philosophy and has dried pizza sauce on their chin, we offer a gospel lens in the decision-making process.
2. Freshmen come with a dorm key
Rosaria Butterfield, a leftist lesbian professor turned Christian wife and best-selling author, writes a book “The Gospel Comes with a House Key.” She dares the reader to peer through the window into her home: a place where she and her husband eat, talk, and share the sweet news of Jesus with unlikely guests. While this take on hospitality is beautiful and has proven successful for the Butterfield’s, even Rosaria admits there are other ways. In part, I agree.
Rosaria’s method suggests that the one being pursued (a freshman, in our case) receives a house key from the evangelist. When it comes to freshman ministry, we flip the script. The evangelist receives a dorm key from the one being pursued. The difference here is in-my-home hospitality versus in-their-home hospitality.
Every freshman comes with a dorm key; an all-access pass to the freshman class. This pass allows us into places we otherwise shouldn’t be. Let’s face it, our interaction with dorm-life grows exponentially less cool the further we get from living in the dorms. However, everything changes when we enter the scene with a freshman friend. And while the dorm key is a huge benefit to us as non-freshman, its fullest potential is realized when the keyholder understands the value of their key.
Freshman ministry should result in freshman disciples making freshman disciples. However, a third generation disciple can only be actualized if freshman disciples lead their peers to Jesus. The dorm key allows these freshmen to rub shoulders with their mission field 24/7.
3. Freshmen are future church planters
Imagine a freshman decides to follow Jesus. Throughout the next four years they are baptized, go to every Sunday gathering, attended small group, bring their friends to church and go on multiple summer projects. Wow! Who leads this esteemed individual?! Now fast forward to their first year as a post-graduate. They move to a major city, get a job, avoid the local church and resort back to calling their philosophical, dried-pizza-sauce-on-chin friend for advice.
This might seem exaggerated, but it is not rare in our church. If we fail to consider the importance of student’s becoming disciple-makers, the narrative will not change. As it so happens, the freshman class presents the most opportunity for redefining this narrative.
What freshmen believe about themselves, the world, Christianity, and discipleship has often been skewed and is in need of a serious makeover. Lucky for us, they are in a season of challenging what they have always believed in order to form a new, personal set of beliefs.
If a freshman’s reconstructed beliefs align with biblical Christianity, it is gameover. That freshman becomes a disciple. That disciple makes other disciples. And you know what disciple-making disciples do? They become church planters.
Don’t lose your why
The way I see it, Resonate years put dog years to shame. The difference between three years and four years is exponential in collegiate ministry. If you exist on a college campus and fail to see the importance of reaching freshmen, your church has an expiration date. We reach freshmen because they are undecided. We reach freshmen because they come with a dorm key. We reach freshmen because they are future church planters. Above all, we reach freshmen for the same reason we reach all people groups: so that they might know and worship God forever. Have you lost your why? Find it, believe it, and you will bear the how.