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High school grads stay in church through new outreach

AUSTIN, Texas (BP) — Students can remain engaged in discipleship and evangelism when moving from high school to college in a new outreach targeting pastors, parents, churches, ministries and teenagers alike.

Campus Ministry Link (CML), the new outreach of Austin, Texas-based Campus Renewal Ministries, seeks to reverse a Gospel-engagement decline of 70 percent among high school graduates leaving home, CML Director of Partnerships John Decker told Baptist Press.

“The stakes are really high,” Decker said. “It’s the largest transition they (students) will ever go through.” CML connects students with ministries on any college campus in the U.S.

“What we’ve seen from students who have connected is that they go through a faith growth spurt, because suddenly they’re with other believers that are volitionally there,” Decker said. “They’re not alone.”

LifeWay national collegiate ministry specialist William Noe has registered all locations of BCM with CML, allowing students to connect with BCMs active on campuses where they plan to enroll.

CML “is starting to partner with Southern Baptists in making sure our information is available on the site, so that if a student, or a parent or a grandparent, gets on the site and wants to help connect to a ministry on campus, then they can,” Noe told Baptist Press. “So our campus-based ministries are in the process of being added to the site.

“Churches also have the option of being added to the site,” Noe said, “so that if somebody wants to get connected to a church nearby, that information can be on [the website) as well.”

Churches with a passion for reaching college students, Noe said, have an opportunity through CML “for students who will be new to these college towns to already make a connection with the church before they ever get on campus, and then for churches to get familiar with the site and to provide information for their own youth that are graduating.”

Enabling students to evangelize lost peers while continuing in Christian discipleship are goals of the ministry also utilized to date by Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ), Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Campus Ambassadors and other groups and churches. Participation is available at campusministrylink.org.

CML references the 2007 LifeWay study, “Church Dropouts: How Many Leave Church between ages 18-22 and Why?” in noting the sharp decline in church participation after high school graduation.

At that time, 70 percent of 23- to 30-year-old Protestants who attended church at least twice monthly during their high school years, the study found, dropped out of church for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22.

CML officially launched in August 2017 under Campus Renewal Ministries, a 20-year-old outreach. Black Rock Church (nondenominational) in Fairfield, Conn., utilized CML in the link’s organizational period preceding the launch. As a result, high school graduates there have continued in their faith, Black Rock high school director Jeremy Taylor said at campusministrylink.org.

“Last year I had all of my high school students participate,” Taylor said at campusministrylink.org. “All were greatly challenged to be spiritually ready for college. Most were blown away by the idea that their first 72 hours at college were the most important in staying strong in their faith…. Many of them were plugged into campus ministries quickly because of this.”

CML facilitates quick engagement to utilize the first three days of college life, Decker said.

“It’s a time when they need fellowship, they need strengthening, they need mentoring, they need good study partners, more than any other time in their life,” Decker said. “It’s the key time.”

CML preserves the investment parents and churches have already made in students’ lives before college, Decker said, and can effectively mold young leaders vital to society’s success.

“The main problem that Jesus said we have is the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few,” Decker said. “This is quite possibly the easiest and quickest way to multiply the number of laborers.

“Suddenly you have college graduates who understand the power of the Gospel,” he said, “[graduates] coming into the marketplace, coming into the churches, coming into the ministry to bring the presence of God, the power of the Gospel into society.”