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The college students we serve have many needs, foremost the need to be deeply rooted in the gospel. Since this is the Roundup Network, I’m confident if you’re reading this you’ve got a solid handle on gospel foundations. So instead, I want to focus on five needs of 18-30-year-olds that often go unmet and occasionally are in direct contradiction to many college ministries.

Part of my role within our organization—elementum—involves staying attuned to the shifting cultural conversations and the whims that characterize college students and young adults. Based on my research, my observations in leadership and ministry, and dozens of conversations every month with ministry leaders in the collegiate and young adult ministry world, I believe college students have five critical needs.

1. Peace, not hype

You’re never going to out-hype the hundreds of thousands of apps, videos, songs, and technological innovations at the fingertips of today’s young adults. Don’t try. College students don’t need more hype in their lives. All the information, opportunities, and entertainment that we have access to significantly contribute to increases in college students’ anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

Instead, your students need space for peace, rest, and security. When people step into your ministry, home, or simply into your presence, it should be a place of peace, a place where they can let their guard down, be themselves, and discover God’s glorious goodness—not just somewhere they get pumped up for the next big thing. Does your leadership provide that? Are you a non-anxious presence amid an anxious, fast-paced world? Does your ministry intentionally make time for quiet, disconnection, and deep intimacy?

2. Intimacy, not more acquaintances

Today is the age of quick connection, but survey after survey show that Gen Z is lonelier than any preceding generation. What’s lacking aren’t acquaintances–it’s real, authentic intimacy. Your students need people who know them for who they really are. They need real conversations beyond “How’s it going? What’s your major? What will you do after graduation?” They need conversations that delve into heart-level issues.

Are you providing spaces where your students can discuss issues they keep quiet about elsewhere? Do your students have people who know what’s weighing on their hearts?

There’s more disciple-making value in your small groups than in your midweek service.  Why? Because the deepest change happens only in the context of authentic relationships where truth can be communicated to the heart, not just the head.

3. Truth, not good ideas and moral advice

I’m constantly amazed at how many college students have grown up in church, taken part in Sunday schools, youth groups, and even led church events but still lack real understanding of absolute truth. Their Christianity is, as has been pointed out in definitive research, moralistic therapeutic deism: Be a good person so you feel good and God will be pleased with you. For many of your students, the gospel is functionally a collection of good ideas and excellent moral advice they need to try to follow.

In both our leadership and our personal relationships, we must be ferociously intentional about our people encountering God’s truth. That means, first and foremost, bringing them into an encounter with God’s Word and wrestling with the reality of the truth contained therein. Whether in the context of preaching, small group studies, or one-on-one conversation, let’s be sure we’re speaking (and reading) truth to the heart rather than jumping to good ideas or moral improvement. After all, truth is the foundation of purpose.

4. Purpose, not self-improvement

This point is particularly significant for young men. Odds are you know young men who spend too much time lost in the world of video games (or the more gender-neutral time consumers like Netflix, TikTok, Instagram, and Youtube). Your students’ mindless scrolling isn’t the result of unfounded laziness. Far from it. Often it’s an escape from a deeply rooted sense of futility and purposelessness.

If you want to effectively engage your students, you must connect them with their Kingdom purpose—the reason that God created them and placed them on earth. As the apostle Paul said in Ephesians, God created good works for each of us to do. Following Jesus isn’t about self-improvement; it’s about fulfilling the purpose we were created for—to be loved by God and to love others. As we live into that purpose, we’ll find a lasting hope.

5. Hope, not momentary happiness

The previous four points all feed into this fifth point. When we’re working with young adults and college students, they need to know there is hope. Despite the conflict, the constant barrage of negative news, and the deep-rooted culture of cynicism, there is incredible hope. In Christ we have something far better than the momentary happiness of a consumerist lifestyle. Intimate relationships, deep-rooted truth, and eternal purpose all free us from the need to pursue the high of the experience for the “now.”

Your people need hope, even if it’s at the cost of momentary happiness. If you’re a pastor or ministry leader, make sure you consistently point those you lead above the horizon of this moment and this lifetime into the eternal hope the gospel gives. If you’re a parent of a college student or young adult, strive to let your life communicate that immortal hope through what you prioritize and celebrate and communicate.

Meet the needs

Your students need peace, not hype. Intimacy, not more acquaintances. Truth, not good ideas or moral advice. Purpose, not self-improvement. Hope, not momentary happiness. Each of those is a need that Jesus meets beautifully in his life, death, and resurrection. Identify practical ways to meet those needs, and make sure that Jesus is at the center of them.