Outside the Walls: Lessons from Our Peer Institutions

By the Rev. Alanna Copenhaver 

This academic year I had the privilege of visiting some of our peer institutions — such as Williams College, Yale University, and Duke University — to learn about their student ministries and engagement strategies. My time with colleagues was valuable and insightful as I learned about their robust and attentive student-centered and student-driven programming.  

When I asked colleagues about meeting the spiritual and intellectual needs of our students, they did not discuss the wide and varied events, lectures, or even worship services they offered. Instead, they talked about the importance of meeting students where they are. They shared an understanding that the spiritual yearnings and inquiring faith of students cannot merely be met by providing custom-tailored programs to address their presumed needs. It is about providing a space for students to learn, to explore, to claim who they are, and who God is calling them to be. Programs are great, but it is the one-on-one connection that changes the world. Spiritual formation happens in these moments. Our work as a faith community is to create disciples, not program participants. 

With our church building undergoing construction, this is a particularly appropriate moment for us to explore the questions: What does student ministry look like if we push ourselves to move beyond programming? What does our church look like outside the walls of the Memorial Church?