The Battle to Belong
Do you remember what it was like to be a college freshman?
You’re 18 years old and just stepped foot on campus for your freshman year. Remember what that moment was like?
If you’re like me, we tend to remember the high points of our college years. The friends we made; the Saturday football games; and especially graduation.
It’s easy for us to remember the excitement we felt when we first arrived on campus; but we forget about the internal turmoil we all felt once the excitement wore off. We forget about the intense desire to belong and the peer pressure to ‘go with the flow.’ We forget what it was like to be surrounded by thousands of peers but still feel completely alone.
In summary, most of us have forgotten the battle that every college freshman faces as soon as they get to campus. I call it, The Battle to Belong.
This battle was raging when I stepped foot on campus almost 40 years ago and it continues on every college campus to this day.
My First 3 Days
Within three days of moving on campus at the University of Arizona, two guys came to my residence hall and knocked on my door. They knew my name and where I played varsity basketball in high school. They connected with me, helped me feel like I belonged and invited me to join them at a party. They were recruiting me.
I distinctly remember that first party was unlike any event I’d ever been to and before I knew it, my trajectory had been set. In other words, my first 3 days on campus set my course for the next 3 years.
Greeks are Great Evangelists
As I think back to those two guys who knocked on my door my freshman year, I’m convinced they were some of the best evangelists I’ve ever met. But they weren’t from a local church, they were from a secular fraternity on campus.
Here’s my point; I think Christians can learn something from the Greek system about recruiting.
According to research, the average church in America lasts around 73 years; which is about the length of 1 generation. On the other hand, my own fraternity Phi Delta Theta, founded in 1848, is still growing to this day. I think their recruitment strategy is working!
My wife was in a sorority at the University of Florida and I was heavily involved in my fraternity (Phi Delta Theta) in college. I served as the Interfraternity Council President, Co-Chairman of the Western Regional Greek Conference, and as a senior was named Greek Man of the Year. During my junior year, my older brother in my fraternity led me to the Lord, and I still actively serve in Phi Delta Theta.
So, what can we learn from the Greek system?
Historically, Greeks understand that if they don’t connect with every freshman class, they won’t survive as an organization. In the same way, campus ministries need to focus on reaching the incoming freshman class every fall semester or they won’t survive either.
Here are three keys I learned from my Greek experience that can help us reach the incoming Freshmen class on our campuses and win the Battle to Belong:
Greeks connect with freshmen as soon as they get to campus
“Within 3 days of moving onto campus…”
I hadn’t even been to class yet when I heard a knock on my door. My fraternity was determined to connect with students the first couple weeks of school and they had a plan to recruit me. The president of one of the largest universities in America said, “The first weekend of a freshman’s experience is either… problematic or opportunistic.” University officials recognize the importance of this time period and even call the first 6 weeks The Red Zone because of the heightened possibility of poor decisions by incoming freshmen, including sexual assault.
Everyone knows that college campuses are recruitment centers. Athletic teams recruit students, clubs and organizations recruit students, even credit card companies recruit students; and it’s because they know that college students are the future leaders of our nation and the world.
My prayer is that campus ministries and churches will have a vision and strategy to connect quickly with freshmen students within their first 72 hours on campus.
Greeks understand that everyone loves a party.
“That first party was unlike any event I had ever been to … “
Freshmen want to have fun and make friends fast; Greek Life is known for both.
What are Christians typically known for on the college campus? The stigma is that Christians are boring, not relevant, not fashionable, not funny, not intelligent. They’re just not!
I believe as Christians, we should be the most fun-loving, life-giving and engaging people around! And if we’re serious about reaching the lost, then we should have the most incredible, excellent and impactful events because we serve the living God who created the universe and rose from the dead!
Our church hosts events of all sizes throughout the school year but our premier event, called Survivor Weekend, happens over Labor Day Weekend every fall semester.
This year, around 1800 students will join tribes from 19 different campuses and travel to Northern Arizona to compete against their peers from all across the Southwest. It’s kind of like a combination of the TV show Survivor, the Spartan Race and Tough Mudder.
Survivor Weekend is not a church camp. In fact, 60% of all student guests who attend are unchurched or unfamiliar with the Gospel but that weekend they have “fun with no regrets” and they’re inspired to “choose their tribe before their trail.” Survivor Weekend is so important to us that we cancel all of our Sunday church services to host the event.
After the event is finished, we continue to build authentic relationships with students throughout the school year. In fact, 70% of the new students who attended Survivor Weekend last year visited one of our church services or Bible studies.
Greek students lead in their organizations.
“…two guys came to my residence hall.”
I can’t stress the importance of this enough. It wasn’t two professional staff members of a fraternity who knocked on my door, it was two student members who were just a little older than me who made me feel like I belonged.
In the same way, I believe college students can and should lead in evangelism on campus. The focus of our Staff is to be the guides who come alongside students to envision, equip and empower them to engage their peers. Last year our team of Staff and students connected with 3,109 students during the first 72 hours, 12,441 students in the first six weeks and 32,274 students over the academic year. And over the last 5 years we’ve connected with 11,813 students in the first 72 hours, 35,445 in the first six weeks and 93,694 students over the academic year.
If we don’t have a strategy for students during the Battle to Belong, somebody else will — especially the Enemy!
So what can you do? Here’s a few questions that may help you develop your own strategy:
-Have you reflected and written out your own personal experience with the Battle to Belong? Have you shared your story with the students in your ministry?
-Do you know when the freshmen move-in on your campus?
-Are there students in your ministry willing to make a commitment to connect with freshmen as soon as they arrive and help them belong?
-Is there something fun and exciting, something that breaks the stigma, that the students in your ministry can invite freshmen to?