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Q&A with Rev. Marcus Zill, LCMS U

Same-sex marriage legal rulings, life issues, feminist outcries, science vs. Scripture debates—Christian college students are walking into hotbeds of hostility. How can they get ready for increasing persecution? What can your church do to encourage and embrace young adults?

Rev. Marcus Zill, campus ministry expert, takes on the topic of church dropout trends among college students with insights and key ideas for pastors and parents.


As shepherds of their flocks, pastors are called to care for the spiritual well-being of their members at all points in their lives. What can pastors be doing now to prepare for their changing role in the lives of their college-bound members?

Pastors are extremely influential in the spiritual lives of their young people in a much greater measure than they realize. The best thing that pastors can do to help prepare their young, college-bound members is to keep them in the Divine Service and encourage their continued growth in God’s Word. It is easy for pastors to spend less time with youth once they are confirmed, but a phone call or a simple text also goes a long way, especially if youth are noticeably absent a lot.

I would like to encourage every pastor to take every student out for coffee once before they graduate from high school, and once while they are at college, or home on break. Young people need to know that they aren’t forgotten and that they can contact their pastor even as they transition from home.

Pastors often see young people fade away after confirmation classes end. Do you see a connection between high school church drop-out cases and forgetting the faith in college?

Twenty years ago, campus ministry workers were most concerned about how to get young people quickly involved in a local church or campus ministry before they might get disconnected from their life in Christ during college. While those concerns remain, the slippery slope of losing one’s faith is actually accelerating already in high school.

There are a lot of reasons why young people fall away from the faith during their high school years, but attendance at the Divine Service is certainly one of them. Frankly, our youth are way too busy with “stuff.” If young people aren’t going to church often during high school while still at home, the chances are that they will do so even less, if at all, at college. This is why it is so very crucial that pastors reach out early to high school students when they see signs of this happening.

What steps can pastors take when their members are high school-aged (and younger) that will encourage them to remain in church for life?

An interesting dynamic takes place shortly after a young person becomes confirmed in junior high or high school. While confirmands take an oath to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from their faith, and can discern the Lord’s Body and Blood and receive the Sacrament, they are still often treated as if they are in adolescent purgatory. They are no longer children, but they still live at home. They are communicant members in their congregation, but they still aren’t closely connected with the everyday affairs of congregational life. Anything that pastors can do to encourage young people to get involved and be treated as adult members of the parish will be very helpful.

Youth want to serve. Let them serve.

Parents & Students

Share two important ways that parents can equip their children—whether a month or ten years away from college—to understand that nothing matters more than their faith.

Obviously, parents need to be a good example in making it clear that the nurture and maturation of their own faith is a priority. Yes, this means being consistently in the Divine Service, but it also means turning the TV off, so you can read a book together and make the most of opportunities at home for Bible study and devotion.

The best thing parents can do when dropping their young adult off at college as a freshman is to not head home right away, but instead make plans to stick around and go with their son or daughter to church that first Sunday. If doing so the first weekend is not possible, this needs to be a priority in the near future. Young people feel awkward going to a strange church that first time. Having their parents go with them would be a huge benefit.

Same-sex marriage legal rulings, life issues, feminist outcries, science vs. Scripture debates—Christian college students are walking into hot beds of hostility. How can they get ready for the persecution ahead?

Young people show up on college campuses having left behind all the institutions that have formed them to date: their home church, their parents and siblings, their high school, and a close network of friends. It is easy to feel alone and isolated when it seems everything around you seeks to undermine what you have previously learned and believed.

That’s why it’s so incredibly important for young people to go to a college where they will have a faithful church and/or campus ministry, so they can stay connected to the rest of the Body of Christ during such persecution and trial, rather than trying to go it alone.

Life on Campus

How do you define “campus ministry”? Why is it so important?

Campus ministries come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the essence of campus ministry is providing “the ministry” to those on campus during a pivotal and transitional time in their life. Campus ministry includes caring for our own LCMS college students and keeping them in the faith, identifying the tremendous opportunities to witness to atheists and agnostics, capitalizing on the huge avenues for reaching out to an increasing number of international students and their families, and caring for faculty and staff on campus as well. Given the genuine concerns we all have with the loss of religious liberty on campus and beyond, we also bear a responsibility to make sure that the church has a place in the public square and the incubator of societal ideas.

Tell us a little about LCMS U. Where can students learn more before they pack up for the dorms?

LCMS U connects and supports college students in the development of their faith and encourages and equips campus ministry throughout The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, so that all can boldly bear witness to Christ on our nation’s college campuses. Students, parents, pastors, and anyone with an interest are encouraged to learn more at lcmsu.org. We also encourage everyone to check out our new weekly radio program, The Student Union, which will debut on KFUO at the end of July.

Rev. Marcus T. Zill
Director of Campus Ministry & LCMS U
LCMS Office of National Mission

Check out a message from Rev. Zill about the same-sex marriage ruling and college campus life . . .
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