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Thrive on a Secular College Campus

  • Abby Nye Contributing Writer
  • Published Aug 28, 2008
Thrive on a Secular College Campus

If you choose to attend a secular collage or university, know that your survival will require action. Demands it. You cannot expect to quietly sit through four years of propaganda that often openly attacks your Christian faith without being influenced. Survival is important. But it might also be that God wants you to do more than learn to cope with the situation. If you decide to go to a secular school, determine right now to do more than just survive on the sidelines. Determine to thrive -- to join the action, engage in debate, and be part of the discussion.

But before you raise your hand in class to offer a Christian perspective or find yourself in a debate with your roommate on the existence of God, make it a priority to plug into a group of solid, faith-filled Christians for support. The absolutely, positively most important thing on your "survive and thrive" list for college is to plug into a church and/or para-church organization. The great thing is that every campus has at least one, and many of the larger campuses have more than one, para-church organization on campus. There's Campus Crusade, Navigators, Inter-Varsity, and some lesser-known ones that are excellent, as well.

At the first Campus Crusade meeting of the year, a friend and I shared the edge of a window ledge in the very back of the large classroom as students squeezed in. All the seats were taken, including the steps. The room was packed. We began to sing worship songs.

You are the Lord of lords
You are the King of kings
You are the Mighty God
You are Lord of earth.
You are Emanuel
You are the Living God.

It was amazing to hear everyone sing with such passion. I had been told that I would be inspired by the Christians at secular colleges. I was already impressed by the enthusiasm. It was also encouraging because these students were coming to Campus Crusade because they wanted to, not because it was a mandatory chapel meeting such as those at most Christian colleges. As worship ended, someone stood up and gave a message. The message was about how to begin a relationship with God. It was good "getting started stuff" for someone in the room who might be asking questions for the first time.

Finding a church and a para-church group to be part of is an absolute must. It doesn't work to be a Lone Ranger Christian. You'll be swept away and you will not grow spiritually unless you have the accountability and encouragement that comes from Christian relationships. 

Ask any Christian student to explain the instant bond you have with fellow Christians and they may not be able to put words to it, but they understand. When Christians are the minority on a secular campus, that bond becomes even more special. I have friends with similar interests, friends in my major, friends in my extracurricular activities, but the friends that I share the bond of Christ with stand apart. Maybe it's because those relationships are rarer on a secular campus so they become more precious, or maybe it's because of the power of the acknowledgement of Christ's love.

Because I go to a smaller university, there were not as many Christian organizations to choose from. Fortunately, CCC had a strong and active presence on campus, with participation of close to ten percent of the student body. CCC, similar to most Christian organizations, does a lot of advertising the week before classes start in order to get people interested and involved. Campus Crusade also does a lot of outreach geared toward freshman specifically. On the campus I attend they have a student-led "freshman outreach team" that plans fun activities and socials specifically for freshman so that they can make new friends and, at the same time, grow spiritually. Our CCC staff leaders live right next to campus and they open up their houses at all hours to students. The back door to their basement is unlocked so students can go there and hang out, have Bible studies, or worship. It's a very cool house and a favorite hang-out among many of the students involved in Crusade.

In addition to plugging into a Christian organization on campus, it's important to be involved in a smaller Bible study. Commonly, groups such as CCC or InterVarsity offer small group Bible studies led by staff or upperclassman. Bible studies provide opportunities to get to know people on a deeper level, keep each other accountable, and really dig into the Word.

Christian organizations on campus have a tough job. They try to meet the needs of established Christians, yet at the same time keep an eye out for the new Christians and those who may still be sitting on the fence. As a result, sometimes the small group Bible studies may not go very far beneath the surface. You can't really generalize because there are so many variables including the group leader and the make-up and maturity of the group members. Keeping things simple in small groups, in an attempt to make people at all stages of growth feel welcome and to encourage students to bring their non-Christian friends, has its ups and downs. You may get tired of hearing the salvation message preached every week, but for some students it may be the first time they've ever heard that message. Exercise your options when it comes to plugging into a small group study.

I asked one of the moms I had babysat for if she would lead a Bible study for a group of my friends. We liked the opportunity to get off campus and go to a real home, eat good food, and learn from a seasoned Christian woman. The Bible study was also flexible to accommodate our busy schedules and we were able to choose what we wanted to study.

A close friend of mine at a huge university took the initiative to start her own Bible study with her close friends. It was actually called a GIG -- Groups Investigating God. It was a six-week Bible study to introduce people interested in Christianity to the basic beliefs of Christianity.

Connecting with Christians on campus will pose a unique experience for students, depending on their interests, worship style, and spiritual needs. There is no magic formula or one way to do things. I gathered e-mails from a few of my friends at secular schools to learn more about how they connected with other Christians. While they all had different experiences, there is one common thread -- they all stress the importance of connecting with other Christians right away.


First things first

Find a para-church group on campus, a church, a small Bible-study, one of the above or all three. Make it one of the first things you do. You're setting your foundation.


When you pack to go to college, in addition to taking a tap light, shower caddy, and twin x-long sheets, take an ample supply of chalk for chalking. On most campuses, chalking is like legal graffiti, a new way to practice freedom of speech. You can write your opinions or thought-provoking questions on the sidewalk one day and the rain washes them away the next.

Outta here

Sometimes you vacillate between reaching out and protecting yourself. Many times, in the interest of surviving and thriving, it is necessary to get completely away from campus. College is not the "real world," and it is important to be reminded of that. Break away now and then. Go for a bike ride, go roller-blading, go for a walk, but get off campus and remind yourself that there is life outside of the bubble.

Scripture memory

Scripture memory has been a great help in thriving on campus. Having gone to a Christian school, we were required to memorize multiple verses each week. I really didn't think much of it at the time. The majority of the time I hurriedly memorized the verses in the class prior to Bible class. But they stuck with me. I experienced God using that in ways I never had before. Whenever I was facing a struggle, whether it was loneliness, doubt, hurt, or anger, relevant verses would pop in my head. Inside, I would be saying, I can't stand this place; I'm so alone. Then a verse would spring to mind, "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Josh. 1:5). I'd be thinking, I can't stand this place; I'm so hurt and worn down. Then I'd remember the Scripture, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:10).

This article is adapted from Fish Out of Water: Surviving and Thriving as a Christian on a Secular Campus by Abby Nye, (New Leaf Press). Copyright © 2005 by Abby Nye. Used with permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.

Abby Nye is a graduate of Butler University. On campus, she was active with Campus Crusade and was co-founder of Veritas, a collegiate think tank that invites non-Christians to open forums featuring speakers on controversial issues that stimulate campus-wide discussion in the pursuit of truth. Abby has been published in WORLD magazine and has been a two-year participant in the Indiana Student Leadership Forum sponsored by Congressman Mike Pence.

Related articles:

College 101: Surviving as a Christian on a Secular Campus
Test of Faith: Christianity in the College Classroom