Marin is already dreaming of the friends she’ll make and opportunities she’ll experience during her freshman year of college this fall.

Down the road about an hour from her Memphis-area home, she’ll attend the University of Mississippi. She shared about the popular Oxford Square in her college town and how she’s “so excited” to start a new chapter.

A member of Bellevue Baptist Church, Marin knows college life is often full of potential spiritual pitfalls — but she said she isn’t “too concerned” at this point about that.  She’s already pinpointed a church she plans to visit and will look to get involved with campus ministry.

Marin isn’t alone in her optimism. Every year young people from Southern Baptist churches across the country leave home to begin their college careers. Unfortunately, Lifeway Research shows about two-thirds (66%) will drop out for at least a year — and others may abandon their faith altogether.

While these numbers are discouraging to many parents and ministry leaders, Southern Baptists don’t appear to be waving the white flag anytime soon.

The North American Mission Board and campus ministries across the country are prayerfully preparing to impact young lives this fall.

Marin and Jessica

Ashley Veneman, Marin’s Sunday morning small group leader and mentor for the past four years, recognizes the concerns both students and church leaders face as students head off to college.

Veneman shared about Marin and Jessica, another student in her small group who will start college this fall at Union University, a private college in Jackson affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

Marin and Jessica both plan to major in psychology. Neither will be exempt from having their faith challenged, Veneman noted.

“You have to know what you believe and why you believe it,” said Veneman, who works full time as a marketing specialist for B&H Publishing Group. “It is important at a secular campus, but if you end up under the wrong teacher at a Christian campus, it’s even more important that you know for yourself.”

Youth leaders have to talk through “the why,” she said. “If [they] don’t know why,” she noted, “then I feel like we’ve really failed in equipping them.”

As a leader of high school students, Veneman said her focus for the past four years has been to ask the tough questions now.

“Say it now, so we can talk through it,” she said.

“Somebody can completely poke holes in their faith if it is not something that they’ve already thought through themselves,” she added.

Jessica noted, “I think the biggest challenge that people would have would be not taking their faith seriously and not taking it personal.

“If you just kind of float through high school and ride on your parent’s back — and on your church’s back — then obviously once you get to college, then what is your faith?”


Both Marin and Jessica agreed accountability will be a big factor.

Marin said, “I think when no one is holding you accountable for going to church, it can be so much harder to push yourself to go when you don’t feel like it or you just want to sleep in.”

She expressed thankfulness for her group leaders, like Veneman, who taught her biblical principles and “to remember God’s character and who God saw we (His children) are. That is something I will never forget.”

Jacob’s perspective

Meanwhile, Jacob — a missionary kid with parents who have served in East Africa and Milan, Italy — plans to attend William Carey University in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, a private college affiliated with the Mississippi Baptist Convention.

For the MK who has spent his high school years studying at a boarding school in Germany, Jacob believes his time overseas has helped prepare him for college life.

During his time at a Christian school with other MKs, he took a worldview class he believes has helped equip him when encountering different ideologies — and has helped keep his faith strong.

Remaining active in church

A self-described extrovert, Jacob plans to study business administration and looks forward to finding a theologically sound church.

“I see a lot of students go to the same church just because their friends are going to it, but I kind of want to go to a church that I actually think I should be at … [and] get plugged in some way,” he said. “All types of churches need some help, so hopefully I can help in some sort of way.”

Beyond the Bible Belt

For Philadelphia native Brian Musser, Baptist campus minister at Drexel University for the past 18 years, college ministry in the Northeast — where there are far fewer churches than the South — is different and in some ways more challenging.

“Here in the Northeast, if your faith survived high school, college might not be that big of an issue,” said Musser, who raises his own support through NAMB in partnership with the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania-South Jersey. “We see people leaving the faith long before they ever get to college.”

He noted, “When I started at Drexel (in 2005), I was really the only evangelical Christian looking at Drexel as a full-time ministry.” Except for a few part-time efforts, he was it in terms of campus ministry on a campus of 18,000.

Today, he said, Drexel has about 23,000 students — and probably less than 200 undergraduates claim to be a Christian.

His biggest challenge, he said, is communicating the gospel in a way where people don’t just hear “churchianity.”

“We have to be able to communicate the gospel where they hear Jesus died for sinners more than ‘you are a sinner.’ … We have to lead with the grace,” he said.

Advice for parents, remaining ‘hopeful’

Musser challenged parents to “search your life” for stories where Jesus made a difference in your life and share them with their kids.

“I would spend a lot of time telling that to my children,” he said. “How has your faith made a difference in the areas they are asking questions? And actual stories — not lectures, but something about your life. That’s what I would do.”

Back in Memphis, Veneman remains optimistic as she watches Marin and Jessica — and other students — prepare for a new season of life.

“You’re going to mess up … but we’re here for you and rooting for you every step of the way,” she said. “I am hopeful.”

This story was provided by our friends at The Baptist Paper