In an interview with the Accent, David Feguson, senior pastor of Collegedale Church of Seventh-day Adventists, said church-hopping is a harmful trend among university students. He further explained that attendance is not enough; students must actively engage in a faith community if they wish to experience profound worship.
“Take a couple of weeks [or] a month to explore, but don’t just keep exploring,” he said.. “Find a church. Move your membership there. Become involved. Don’t just watch church, be church.”
He emphasized the distinction between visiting a church and being an active member of its family.
“Worship can be a noun or a verb, and to worship most deeply is to actually involve yourself in that community,” Ferguson said. “Everything is different if you’re involved.”
Students who do not become actively involved in a single church now are more likely to continue this habit later in life, according to Ferguson. He referenced “keystone habits,” a data-supported notion used in a book called “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, which are habits that, when formed, contribute to the formation of other habits.
Ferguson believes there is a strong likelihood that attending corporate worship is a keystone habit positively correlated with prayer, generosity, volunteerism and Bible study.
“I agree that going to church does not save you, Jesus does,” he said. “But [I believe] going to church is a keystone habit for interacting with Jesus … having a relationship with Jesus.”
Ferguson acknowledged that students can receive substantial spiritual encouragement from university worship programs. However, when these students do not engage in a church community, they will often connect their spiritual growth to the school and not to church. Then, after they graduate, they will feel as if their university stage of life is over and their spirituality along with it.
Jesus said in the gospels that engaging in a family of believers is important, according to Ferguson; thus, there is no reasonable excuse not to engage oneself.
“Even when people are jerks, even when it’s not your favorite instrumentation, even if a pastor can be hard to listen to, even if it’s a 20 minute drive,” Ferguson said, listing off reasons people often use to not engage in church. “The people Jesus was speaking to, those folks are walking to church under the threat of being identified and killed. So, I think Jesus would say the same to us.”
Ferguson emphasized the idea that a church is a home and family meant to take care of its members, one that cooks meals for them, changes their flat tires and genuinely loves them. In fact, he described being a part of this diverse family of believers as “addictive.” Once this experience gets under a student’s skin, it implants in them a long-lasting desire for church family. It enables them later in life to choose and stick with a church because of the family it offers.
He added another benefit to engaging in a church community: cross-generational interaction and worship.
“My background is youth and young adult ministries. … What I have strongly concluded is that what college students do not need is a student-only service,” Ferguson said. “What they actually need is family. What they actually need is cross-generational opportunities that honor them and that are interested in them. … They need to see the full life of a Christian.”
Data has shown that volunteering one’s time in a cross-generational community can increase emotional and social intelligence, improve skill sets required for all types of careers and help combat depression, according to Ferguson.
“The levels of depression and anxiety in college students today is through the roof as compared to any previous generation of students,” he said. “One of the most effective ways to combat depression for a 20-year-old is to have somebody 75 or older in their life. Guess what you’re not going to find in your dorms? Guess what you’ll find every day of the week associated with the church like this.”
In reference to choosing a local church now as a university student, Ferguson recommended specific, deep questions students should ask.
“A student might ask the question, ‘Is this a worship service I want to go to?’ and be completely ignorant of the question behind the question, which is, ‘Is this a worship service whose mission aligns with university students?’ … and ‘What’s going to be my home?’” he said. “… I think, too, that it makes a big difference if you can see yourself involved in leadership.”
Ferguson encourages students to move their membership to a local church after asking themselves these questions.
“Don’t take long. Decide, commit and dive in. Move your membership,” he said. “… Part of what you get to build up is your resiliency, your understanding, your empathy and ability to be with people that aren’t exactly like you.”