Plenty of research has been done to show that students are leaving the church in droves – some studies suggesting that as high as 66% of church attending high school students will leave the church in college and never return.

But leaving the church is just a symptom of a much more heartbreaking reality – students are giving up on real faith and life with Jesus. The solution is not to get students in the doors of a church, it’s making sure they engage in an integrated relationship with Jesus that affects each facet of daily life.

I’m a pastor’s daughter moving off to college in the next few weeks. In this time of transition, here are 6 steps I am taking to own my faith in college. Not just in a weekend service, but in daily life that results in encouragement, growth, and participation in Jesus’ mission in the world.

1 // Making a Plan

Simply sitting down and choosing to be intentional about my faith in college is a foundational step in making sure I actually follow through with those goals. Lack of concrete goals will almost always result in aimlessness and apathy.

2 // Finding Christian Community on Campus

These groups are powerful because they are tailored for the unique opportunities and challenges found on college campuses, and are often effective in providing vibrant and godly community. We must put ourselves in communities where Jesus can be poured INTO us if we ever want to embrace Jesus’ call to pour OUT to others. CRU, Navigators, and Young Life are all popular ministry options on most campuses.

3 // Committing to a Church

While campus ministries are amazing and crucial, the church is the entire body of Christ, unified together and baptized in his name to bring hope to the lost. CRU won’t be available after college, but being involved in a local church is a lifelong and fundamental part of following Jesus. I will avoid feeling lost and without community after graduation by practicing finding my own church to invest in, serve in, and be fed by while in college.

4 // Finding a Spiritually Mature Mentor

Proverbs 1:5 says that a “man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.” One of my goals is to find a female mentor to hold me accountable, to challenge me, and to push me toward growth – particularly as I transition out from being under my parents’ constant leadership.

5 // Getting Involved OUTSIDE the Church

As an enthusiastic pastor’s daughter, most people are surprised to hear that I chose a liberal university instead of the popular local Christian college. Because of my background, I live in a world that encourages my faith, but is limited in opportunities for God’s love to spill out to those outside the church. In college, I am going to be intentional about forming relationships specifically with the people living around me. If Jesus is about transforming lives, then my personal transformation is not the end of his goal. He desires that my salvation be used to transform the lives of others.

6 // Filling the Gaps

There will be a time before I feel connected to a community, and a time before finding a strong church, where it may often feel like I left the faith I knew behind. Those gaps in the transition can be filled with other resources.  If I am not connected to a worship service yet, I plan on taking time each week to get away from people with my guitar and worship on my own. I plan to continue to listen to podcasts of teaching from Mission Hills as I search for solid biblical teaching near me. These are not permanent solutions, but using these resources will keep me from slipping into isolation and apathy during the transition time.

Simply finding Christian community in a church or ministry on campus is not the sole answer to the collegiate exodus from faith. Jesus desires more of me than just my weekend attendance in church. Embracing the full life of both personal salvation and outward mission that Jesus is calling us to live is what yields real transformation – in college and beyond.