In his 2011 book, College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture, author Stephen Lutz listed five trends that could shake up college ministry as we know it. I love looking forward at coming trends, but also backwards later to see where predictions were correct or off point. Lutz’s book is about half way through the ten year span that he forecast from, so now is a great time to look back. By the way, he did a great job in picking out these five topics. If you have not read his book. You should. Here are the five possible disruptions in no particular order of importance.
The Higher Education Bubble Will Burst
The rapid growth of Higher Ed was built on the largest cohort of college students ever, plus years of low-interest rate student loans. But that was before the Great Recession. With tuition costs at an all-time high, and loan obligations stretching out longer, people are increasingly wondering if college is worth it. Institutions themselves are overextended and making cuts. The system as we know it may not be sustainable for much longer p. 172
Five year laters there seems to be no large-scale drop in enrollment of students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 20.2 million students expected to attend college in the fall of 2015. This is up 4.9 million from 2000. Though the 20.2 million is slightly down from its 2010 high, it does not seem crippling. See the data here. But we still have five years to go. Can cost still go higher? Will a flight to community colleges cripple some colleges? We will see.
Technology Will Distance, Disperse, and Depersonalize Connection to Students
The rise of online learning is a profitable boon for Higher Ed, but it’s not an unmixed blessing. The lower cost and easy accessibility of online higher education make gaining a college degree easier for older students with families or those who can’t afford living and learning on campus. But among other things, online students miss out on gathering as a group in a classroom, learning not only from their professors but from their peers. p. 173
Since students will not be spending as much time on campus, it will be harder to meet them, round them up and expect to minister to them in large groups. Instead Lutz sees campus ministry having to go outward and smaller to reach people.
The future of all campus ministry may look like what’s happening at community colleges around the country–large but disjointed student bodies, moving targets that are exceedingly difficult to reach. p. 174
This is, perhaps, the hardest to verify in numbers, but we know it is happening. More and more campuses are integrating distance learning with online classes and online tests and homework. Students are able to have a more flexible schedule, but it also shows the fractured lifestyles that we all live now.
Non-Traditional Student Will Become More Traditional
I can say with certainty that on this one Lutz was right on. In researching for Generation Z and North American trends, I can see the non-traditional student becoming more traditional. Lutz sees more of these types of students: older, part-time, more females than males, and a huge change in the demographics of students.
In addition to non-traditional students, we’ll also need to adapt our methodologies to appeal to students of differing ethnic and racial backgrounds and cultures. Many college settings remain overwhelmingly white, but as the demographics of North American continue to shift toward a majority of minorities, Higher Ed is following suit. p.175
In July of 2015 a U.S. and World Report article came out declaring the younger than five demographic to be more than 50 percent minority. It also pointed out the huge growth in multi-racial marriages and the children that are being born to this age group. See the article here. Generation Z is now entering college, and will be the most diverse generation in US history.
Combining with technology, transferable credit, and huge cost increases, more and more students will look at crafting their own academic learning paths that may pull from multiple campuses, and learning venues.
The elephant in the room for many ministries will be reaching an ever-growing minority demographic. Churches, campus ministries, and para-church groups will have to reach minority groups, and transition leadership to those groups to make any lasting impact. It’s going to be disrupting to many groups, but for those who get it, it will lead to more students reached on the campus. It didn’t take ten years to prove him right on this one.
College Ministers May Face Diminished Access to Secular Campuses
In 2010 the campus ministry community was reeling from the Hastings case, the Supreme Court case that allowed the Hastings Law School to restrict clubs on campus from excluding members, even those who disagreed with the club on matters of religion and policy. What followed the ruling was the decision by the California state university system to not recognize numerous Christian clubs for excluding those who did not hold to their doctrinal beliefs. Later, the California university system walked back from that policy. However, in many ways, that drama was overshadowed by the Obergefell case which finally legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States. That case was quickly followed by lawsuits, issues relating to transgender rights, and a recent bill in the California senate which would allow homosexual students to sue religious colleges and universities for discrimination.
From Bilola University
The provisions of the proposed bill represent a dramatic narrowing of religious freedom in California. It would mean faith-based institutions would no longer be able to determine for themselves the scope of their religious convictions as applied in student conduct policies, housing and restroom/locker facilities, and other matters of religious expression and practical campus life. Though the free exercise of religion is guaranteed by both the U.S. and California Constitutions, SB 1146 would make religious institutions like Biola vulnerable to anti-discrimination lawsuits and unprecedented government policing.
Even though the state senator who introduced SB 1146, decided to pull the bill, we should still be concerned that the bill got as far as it did. In fact, he has hinted that he could possibly reintroduce the bill at a future time.
In looking at these situations and the general trend, Lutz’s speculation seems entirely possible.
Eventually, many more campus ministries may have to figure out how to function without full university recognition or legal sanction. . . . We ought to be working on navigating the coming challenges with grace and humility, adding value and generally seek to bless our campuses, and planning the future model of our ministry in the event that we have to go “underground.” p.176
He is right on this point, but the question is do enough churches, campus ministries, and Christians grasp this point? Looking forward, it seems that the fallout of Obergefell and a tendency to restrict religious liberty will continue, and will affecting Christians on campus tremendously.
What is your ministry doing to prepare in case it cannot retain its RSO status?
Financial Sustainability Will Be Challenged
The next ten years will likely mark a significant decrease in the North American base of ministry funding, as approximately 100,000 churches will disappear. The world War II generation will be gone, and the Baby Boomers (now at the peak of their earning power) will transition from giving to organizations like ours to receiving Social Security, Medicare, and the like on reduced incomes. p. 176
He hit it right on. Though we are only five years from the book’s publication, we have seen the International Mission Board of the largest Protestant denomination pull back hundreds of missionaries from the field, and other data that tends to show a demographic tsunami which will affect church patterns shortly.
In his book, The Great Evangelical Recession (published in 2013, two years after Lutz’s book) John Dickerson echoes Lutz in his concern over future giving in a chapter entitled “Bankrupt.” Looking at stats from the SBC, there were mixed results in the 2015 report. Numbers for members and baptisms were down slightly, but giving was up slightly. But we still have five more years to go. Of course these are stats from just one denomination. What exactly will happen? We do not know, but those doing collegiate ministry would be wise to start thinking out of the box to figure out how to grow staff who can generate income through support raising, or bivocational ministry.
I hope after reading about these five possible disruptions you will be encouraged to pick up a copy of College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture, and think about how you do college ministry, and what you need to do to get ready for the next five years. You will be challenged.
Hear Steve talk about these five disruptions as he talks with me in the No Campus Left Podcast