Bucking the trend

Date Posted: 
Monday, January 25, 2016

[Students worshipping at The Well, a Sunday night service. Photo courtesy Chris Pieters.]

Millennials are leaving the church in droves. The Pew Research Center reports that just 56 percent of those born between 1990 and 1996 consider themselves Christians, even though eight in ten of them were raised in religious homes.

Campus Ministry at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in Allendale, Michigan, which is funded by RCA and Christian Reformed churches, is celebrating its 50th anniversary by bucking that trend.

Chris Pieters, a GVSU campus minister for almost 20 years, has seen parts of Campus Ministry at GVSU double in size. The Well, a Sunday night worship time, has gone from drawing 200 students to more than 400 students each week, which led to a second service. Approximately 250 students will take spring break mission trips this year. Between 350 and 400 students are in student-led small groups.

So what is this campus ministry doing to attract so many students? According to Pieters, nothing revolutionary.

“It’s nothing terribly unique, but the thing that we do is walk with students in that time frame where so many major life decisions get made—when they’re deciding what to study, where to live, who to date or marry, and what they’re going to value,” Pieters says.

Ultimately, the growth of Campus Ministry owes more to the work God is doing in the hearts of GVSU students than anything Pieters and the other staff members do.

“It’s not assumed here that you’ll be involved in a faith community,” Pieters says. “So it’s all student choice, student-initiated involvement. These students are really saying, ‘I want to be part of a strong faith community in college.’ That’s a big step. It seems to really transform them to say, ‘now I want Christ in my life’ beyond whatever faith they grew up with.”

Those faith backgrounds vary. “We’ll get students with a real nominal experience with church—coming just for Easter and Christmas—and we’ll get kids with a lot of training and experience with the church,” Pieters says.

What all these students share is a thirst for meaning.

“I think students are just searching for meaning and purpose” says Pieters. “Consistently, students are looking for how their lives are going to make a difference.”

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