Research and vast anecdotal evidence indicates most young people—some of whom have been involved with their churches’ religious education programs practically since birth—stop going to church at least temporarily when they get to college.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Dozens of UU congregations have vibrant campus ministries that provide connections to a faith community for young UUs away from home for the first time. A campus ministry program can also be a way to introduce the faith to non-UU students who want to learn more about it. What makes for a successful campus ministry program?
First, the congregation and its leadership must make a commitment to allocate human and financial resources to the program. Community Church of Chapel Hill UU has had a campus ministry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for more than 20 years. Marion Hirsch, the church’s director of lifespan religious education, has overseen the campus ministry program since 2003. “Our congregation has always taken to heart that if we don’t commit to providing for young UUs who come into our community, we’re sort of leaving them high and dry,” Hirsch said.
Next is the realization and acceptance of the fact that the size of the program doesn’t matter. There is no magic number of participants in a successful campus ministry. Under the best of circumstances, the average college student body turns over every four years. The decision to commit to sponsoring a college ministry will have to be made without knowing how many students will attend its weekly meetings in a given year.
Laura Thompson, intern and campus minister with the UU Church of Davis, said she sometimes has 10 students at weekly meetings at the University of California, Davis, but more often it is four students. “It doesn’t matter how small it gets,” she said. “The commitment level has to stay very high.”
Flexibility in programming is important, too. College students’ lives can change in a very short time. Issues that were important to students at the beginning of the fall semester may not matter to them a month later.
Finally, keep the connections between campus and congregation open. While most campus UU groups meet on or near campus, it’s important to plan some student services or events that will take place at church. Students take responsibility for an annual service at many sponsoring churches.
First UU Church of San Diego has a ministry at the University of California, San Diego, that meets on campus and another young adult group open to any 18- to 25-year-olds that meets weekly at church. Four times a year, 50 to 60 young people participate in an alternative Soulful Sundown service at the church.
Mali Taylor, the church’s social justice and young adult ministries coordinator, said: “If we want to keep the UU community going, we have to invest in the young adults who are going to keep it going.”
Campus ministry resources
You can start a Unitarian Universalist group at your school or at a campus near you. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for resources and support, and visit UUA.org to learn more about getting started or to find an existing campus ministry in your area. uua.org/re/campusministry
Put yourself on the map
Many UU congregations have chosen to show their suppert for racial justice by displaying a Black Lives Matter banner or sign on their building. UUA.org now has a map that shows how this visibility movement has grown.
Check out the map to see what UU congregations are participating. If your congregation has a Black Lives Matter banner or sign and isn’t yet on the map, add your congregation’s name. You can also find resources for learning more about getting a Black Lives Matter banner, dealing with possible vandalism, and more. tinyurl.com/BLMmap
Hiring and supporting staff
The UUA’s Professional Development Office has revised “From Starting to Parting,” a guide for supervisors and other congregational leaders in recruiting, hiring, supporting, and transitioning staff. While the resource primarily addresses music and religious education positions, much of the advice can apply to any staff role. Professionalism, supervisory relationships, and healthy staff teams are emphasized. tinyurl.com/StartingToParting