This commentary accompanies story #469. A photograph of the Rev. Harold V. Hartley III is available.
A UMNS-UMC.org Commentary
By the Rev. Harold V. Hartley III*
is the first Sunday night of the month and time for Crave. The
youth-led, youth-planned worship service typically draws 100 to 300
young people from around northern Virginia. Fairfax Station Christ
United Methodist Church hosts the event. A UMNS photo by Jay Mallin.
Photo number 03-322, Accompanies UMNS #473, 10/1/03
No Long Caption Available for this Story
Just as Methodism began as a renewal movement among
college students, a new campus spiritual revival could bring
much-needed renewal to the church today.
It remains to be seen
if the church will embrace this work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of
students, and be open to the passion, vision, and gifts a new generation
seeks to offer.
Brothers John and Charles Wesley founded the
Holy Club on the campus of Oxford University in 18th century England to
provide spiritual nurture and accountable discipleship for a small band
of students. Out of that little campus group sprang the Methodist
movement that now encircles the globe.
Today, a new generation
of college students in the United States is seeking in a similar vein
to reunite, in Wesley's terms, "vital piety" and "social holiness." In
so doing, they hope to bring renewal to a rapidly aging denomination
that is searching for a way to reclaim its identity and perhaps its very
Through the new United Methodist Student Movement, a
growing number of student leaders are proudly claiming their Methodist
identity and seeking a strong role within the denomination.
in 1996, the UMSM is the first national network of college students in
the United Methodist Church in nearly 30 years. It is powered by student
leaders who meet annually at Student Forum, a national leadership
conference, and at a growing number of local and regional UMSM
gatherings. They come from vital campus ministries that have nurtured
and prepared them for this opportunity to lead and serve.
reports that this new generation is not interested in
denominationalism, the UMSM provides evidence that a growing number of
students are seeking vital connections to a deeply rooted tradition.
They may not be blindly loyal to the denomination, but they are
attracted to a Wesleyan tradition that combines passionate faith with
service to those in need and is intellectually engaging while tolerant
of the views of others.
The movement is capitalizing on the
spiritual awakening on U.S. college campuses. A study of first-year
students at 12 United Methodist-related colleges revealed that more than
80 percent desire to strengthen their religious beliefs and
convictions. Campus ministers and chaplains report that student
participation is up this fall, continuing a trend of several years.
Also, increasing numbers of students graduating out of campus ministry
programs are considering full-time professional ministry, as confirmed
by younger entering classes in United Methodist seminaries.
renewed interest in faith is occurring among the largest generation of
young people in U.S. history - larger than the baby boomers.
Furthermore, a higher percentage of young adults is going to college,
with an anticipated 15 percent growth in the number of students by 2012.
resurgence of interest in faith among young adults coincides with the
rapid aging of the United Methodist Church. A recent study indicated
that nearly 90 percent of United Methodist worshippers are over age 30.
increasing numbers of students are being attracted to United Methodist
campus ministries, there are also many who are seeking aimlessly.
Although the United Methodist Church has the largest network of
Protestant campus outreach, our church is represented on less than
one-third of U.S. college and university campuses. A more intentional
witness is needed to reach this generation of young seekers.
reports have noted the shortage of seminary-trained ordained clergy to
fill church pulpits. Rather than commit to appointing the best and
brightest clergy on the front lines of the campus to reach an expanding
student population hungering for spiritual guidance, we are trying to
fill empty pulpits.
The flourish of student religious engagement
on campus is, paradoxically, coupled with a steep decline in church
funding of campus ministry and church-related higher education. As a
result, campus ministers are spending more time raising funds and less
time raising disciples.
Our denomination is faced with difficult
choices. At a time when new investment in ministries with college
students is urgently needed, we are experiencing funding shortfalls
across the denomination. Campus ministry, with its significant personnel
and facility needs, is an inviting target for budget cuts. Instead of
expanding programs and adding staff to reach "unchurched" students, we
are slashing financial support for campus ministries.
can we count on young adults to return to United Methodist churches when
they reach their 30s and have young children. They are going where
their presence is intentionally sought and their gifts are warmly
welcomed. We cannot afford to lose this generation of students to
para-church groups such as Campus Crusade or InterVarsity, which are
investing heavily in campus ministry.
The United Methodist Church
needs the gifts, passion and vision of young adults. The young adults I
know who are active in the UMSM have a contagious faith. They possess a
passionate faith in Jesus Christ, a desire to serve and a commitment to
These young adults also tell me they are
finding it difficult to feel at home in local churches that are set in
traditional ways of worship and are not welcoming of the gifts that
young leaders have to offer. Instead of finding open hearts, open minds
and open doors, some are finding none of the above.
has much to learn from this new generation. The power of faithful and
faith-filled young adults to effect change in the church should not be
underestimated. The Wesleys were a prime example. The gifts today's
young revivalists have to offer could not come at a better time for our
denomination. The question remains, are we ready to receive them? # # #
is director of student ministries, vocation and enlistment at the
United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.