Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Reggie Joiner, Chuck Bomar, & Abbie Smith's new book, The Slow Fade: Why You Matter in the Story of Twentysomethings(David C. Cook, 2010).

College students who grew up in Christian homes are leaving churches at an alarming rate. Research indicates that somewhere between 65 and 80 percent of people who have grown up going to church drop out of church once they reach college age, between 18 and 25 years old.

Why? Too many churches simply don't invest in college-aged people. Churches may offer excellent youth groups for high school students, but then nothing at all once those students graduate. And too many Christians simply leave college students on their own, assuming that they're solidifying their faith while they're beginning their adult lives.

But the college years are a crucial time for people to engage in relationships that give them encouragement and support. During college, young adults face important decisions that affect the course of their lives, like what careers to pursue and who to marry. Adults ages 18 to 25 desperately need Christians who care enough about them to mentor them, so their faith will become stronger - not weaker - during that critical time in their lives. If that happens, their lives can go in the direction God hopes they'll go.

Here's how you can mentor college students:

Understand the questions college students are trying to answer. What drives college students as they seek the wisdom to build their lives well are three key questions: "Who am I?", "What does it mean to be God's son or daughter?", and "How do I fit into the world around me?" They need friendships in which they can safely process those questions. 

Understand the spiritual issues that play key roles in their lives. Any kind of spiritual struggle can be traced back to a wonder for God that's been lost, an identity that isn't yet discovered, or a passion that has faded. So seize moments the moments you encounter to incite wonder, provoke discovery, and fuel passion in college students' lives. If you connect your own journey of wonder, discovery, and passion with their lives, you can help them move closer to God. Also, their youthful idealism, curiosity, and imagination can spark fresh spiritual growth in your life.

Respect the story God is telling college students' lives. Don't go into any mentoring relationship with an agenda of your own. Instead, ask what God is already doing in each college student's life, and seek to support the story that God is telling through that person's life rather than trying to guide the person in the direction you personally think he or she should go. Give the students you mentor space to discover that path God has for them instead of trying to define it for them. Remember that all you need to accomplish as a mentor is simply getting to know the students better and challenging them to seek God more.

Listen carefully. Focus more on listening than on talking. Ask college students questions about their lives and pay attention to what thoughts and feelings they share with you. Seek to learn all you can about them, which will let them know that you genuinely care about them and motivate them to open up to you about their spiritual journeys.

Find commonality. Talk about topics of mutual interest, and share experiences doing activities that you and each student you're mentoring both enjoy.

Speak into their lives when they go through troubling circumstances. College students are bound to encounter trouble, just like everyone else in this fallen world. Whether they're going through the breakup of a romantic relationship, struggling to find a job, dealing with confusion over a decision they must make, or some other problem or crisis, you can share how God has helped you successfully deal with similar circumstances in your own life.

Celebrate each step. Recognize that maturing spiritually is a process that takes time, and that each person is a work in progress. Don't wait until the college students that you mentor achieve a certain level of spiritual maturity before you celebrate their progress. Instead, rejoice with them whenever they take the next step God is leading them to take in their lives. Celebrate the steps they're taking rather than highlighting the ones they haven't yet taken.

Keep loving students even when they make mistakes. When the students you mentor mess up in some way (such as by cheating on an exam, getting drunk, or sleeping with someone they're dating), offer them unconditional love. Although you do want to encourage them to confess and repent of sin in their lives, you also need to show them that they can't outrun the reach of grace. Ask God to help you see them from His perspective.

Keep learning and growing yourself. If a student asks you a question that you can't answer, just admit that you don't know, and try to learn more together.  Let the students you mentor see how you're continuing to grow closer to God yourself, as He works in your life.

Invite college students to participate fully in your church. Invite students to worship services at your church, but go beyond just that.  Give them opportunities to tap into their desire to change the world for the better and use their God-given talents by serving the local community through church service projects. Let them know that you value their voices and abilities to help solve problems. Encourage them to play active roles in your church.

Adapted from The Slow Fade: Why You Matter in the Story of Twentysomethings, copyright 2010 by Reggie Joiner, Chuck Bomar, and Abbie Smith. Published by David C. Cook, Colorado Springs, Co., www.davidccook.com
Reggie Joiner is the founder and Chief Creative Officer of The reThink Group, a non-profit organization providing resources and training for churches. He is also the architect of the Orange Conference and one of the founders of North Point Community Church. He and his wife live in Cumming, Ga., and have four grown children. 
Chuck Bomar served for more than eight years as student/university pastor at Cornerstone in Simi Valley, California. Founder of CollegeLender.org and author of College Ministry 101, he is now senior pastor of Colossae in Portland, Or. He and his wife, Barbara, have two daughters. 
Abbie Smith wrote her first book, Can You Keep Your Faith in College?, while she was in college. She recently graduated from Talbot Seminary with a degree in spiritual formation and soul care and resides in Savannah, Ga., as a writer and spiritual director. 

Publication date: June 24, 2010