Thursday, September 22, 2011

Open Doors

My peers are mostly liberal, northeastern, twenty-something college students. Not surprisingly, given the previous string of adjectives, the mention of Christianity, God, the Church, or Lord-forbid, the fact that I feel called to be a living, breathing missionary, seems to cause many of my peers to react as if I have some sort of infectious disease, ranging in seriousness from the common cold to ebola. Given that the subject of religion throws a wet blanket on conversation, the prospect of getting my friends through Marsh Chapel's door is a task that probably would have caused Jesus himself to look for a metaphor stronger than "a camel through the eye of the needle."

The question of why so many college students have an all-consuming fear of the r-word (religion), is one best left to other blog entries, or, better yet, other books. The why is all-important, of course, but the scope of this entry is not nearly wide enough to even begin to address the issue. Instead, I'd like to address the how. How do we attract those 20-something students, leery of the mere mention of organized religion? How do we incorporate them into the life of Marsh Chapel?

The key word is access. I believe that once inside the doors of Marsh, undergraduates and grad students alike will find what I and so many others have found, a safe and nourishing environment in which to live, learn, and share in fellowship with others. The problem is not keeping them once they're inside, the problem is getting them through those doors in the first place. This offers many challenges, the first of which is that many people know nothing of the events planned by Marsh Chapel. Presence on campus is key. Brother Larry Whitney and Dean Hill are already doing an excellent job of being ambassadors of Marsh Chapel to the rest of the university, but it's not a two-man job, a three-man job, or even a fifteen-man job. Every single person involved in some way with Marsh Chapel must act as an enthusiastic and genuine advocate of Marsh if we hope to reach the student population at large. Advertisement is also immensely important. Presence at fairs are wonderful, handing out fliers and MarshChapstick, great. Much, much more can be done.

Secondly, the way that we interact with students, in my opinion, is all together too formal. Welcome brochures, literature, even the bulletins on Sunday morning, may be (and I say may) a little too abstract, too removed, somber, and traditional for the average college student. Some parts of Marsh fill the formality gap rather nicely; Servant Team comes to mind. However, there has to be a reason why Marsh is losing so many undergraduates to more contemporary, young-people driven worship services, and I believe that reason is lack of accessibility in the form of outreach and worship that we are projecting to the campus.

Obviously, this issue needs to be performed in dialogue. There are also many great minds within Marsh Chapel that think constantly, and have already taken many steps to rectify this situation. Undergraduate minds, however, are a great resource. So, I ask my colleagues and readers: how do we get our peers through those doors?

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