While most students know the university encourages – and requires – students to attend Chapel, ACU also encourages students to connect with local congregations, said Mark Lewis, assistant dean for spiritual life and Chapel programs.
To help students find a congregation they can grow in, ACU staff and students alike are working to provide students with opportunities to get involved in churches all around Abilene. President Dr. Phil Schubert set this example by challenging students to be active in churches during the opening Chapel, Lewis said.
“It means a great deal for our President to remind students of the importance of connecting with a church while they are students here at ACU,” Lewis said.
Emily Privett, senior speech pathology major from Lubbock, said she believed many students are involved with churches, but some choose not to look for a church during college because those four years are so transitional. Privett said she thought the constant change of campus life made finding a stable church home that much more important.
The Students’ Association hosted its fifth annual “Welcome to Abilene” Tuesday evening. The event featured 24 local churches, all of which invite students to visit, Lewis said. The event’s attendees received postcards detailing tips to help them find a church home during their stay at ACU.
ACU also offers freshmen a new program called Faith Exploration, Lewis said. The program puts students in groups with an ACU staff or faculty member who takes the students to five churches in as many weeks. After the services, the students have a time to discuss the church’s traditions and evaluate their own expectations for congregations through their experiences.
Individual students, both former and current, alsoÂ areÂ trying to engage the student body in local congregations. Ben Fike, who received his bachelor’s degree in Christian ministry and master’s of divinity from ACU, said he was discouraged by some local churches’ lack of skills at reaching out to campuses.
“Most of the churches in Abilene I’m aware of really want to connect to college students,” Fike said. “But a lot of them weren’t great at it.”
But rather than allowing his discouragement to drive him away from congregations, Fike decided to take on the challenge of understanding what college students really need from local churches. Fike now serves as the campus minister at the University Church of Christ, where he and church members are searching for the best ways to serve all the campuses in Abilene.
“We’re looking at the opportunities and praying for guidance as we move forward,” Fike said.
PrivettÂ alsoÂ has worked to help students find a church home. She interned at Highland Church of Christ last summer, planning group events and reaching out to students, she said.
“Our goal was to create an atmosphere where people come and feel welcome but also where we can be challenged to grow,” Privett said.
Privett said churches offer a multigenerational aspect of community that is missing in the on-campus fellowship students experience. She believes congregations allow students to get to know people who are different from themselves.
Privett said four years is a long time for students to be disconnected from a home church. She remembered the words her former minister told her before she left for ACU.
“The four years that you’re in college are the most formative time in your life,” Privett recalled her minister saying. “If someone decides to leave church, it is usually during or right after college.”