Here‘s Why Christian Colleges Must Deepen Relationship With Pastors, Local Churches

Here‘s Why Christian Colleges Must Deepen Relationship With Pastors, Local Churches


By , CP Contributor | Sep 18, 2018 10:14 AM (PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK)Nearly half (48 percent) of pastors say they would recommend a Christian college or university to high school students who are applying to college for the first time.

Because churches are important connection points between faith-based institutions of higher learning and prospective students, Christian and Bible colleges must work to deepen their relationships with pastors, a study has suggested.

Together with the Association for Biblical Higher Education, the Barna Group asked nearly 1,000 American pastors from a variety of denominations, regions and church sizes to find out their views of and experiences with Christian educational institutions in a  titled “Why Go to College?”

Nearly half (48 percent) of pastors said they would recommend a Christian college or university to high school students who are applying to college for the first time, and one-third (34 percent) said they would recommend a Bible college. However, when they consider congregants who are interested in pursuing ministry, church leaders were about equally likely to say they would recommend a Bible college (41 percent) and a Christian college or university (42 percent).

More than half of pastors reported recommending a Bible college to someone in their church congregation (56 percent), and nearly six in 10 advocated applying to a specific Bible college (57 percent).

Barna found that most pastors view Bible colleges to be training centers for future pastors, missionaries and theologians. In contrast, Christian colleges or universities are seen as appealing to students who want an education with a strong Christian foundation, regardless of their area of study.

Although many Bible colleges have diversified their educational offerings beyond training for vocational ministry, many pastors did not seem to be aware of these programs.

“The Barna findings highlight the need for schools to communicate more clearly about the benefits of a biblical education beyond ministry preparation,” the authors said. “If the leaders of Bible colleges feel led to further broaden their appeal to prospective students not contemplating vocational ministry, it will be a challenge to overcome the strong association with ministry preparation.”

Doing so will require “concerted communication efforts to pastors, parents and students that Bible colleges prepare students for vocations not explicitly connected to ministry.”

“There is an open opportunity for biblical higher education institutions to partner with (and educate) churches about how their educational offerings are well suited to meet the needs of today‘s prospective students,” the study says.

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While just one in nine (11 percent) Christian prospective students reports their pastor is an important influence on their college choice, this percentage is “still significant,” says Barna. More than half of these students say recommending specific schools is the primary way their pastor is supporting their decision (56 percent).

Barna acknowledges that overall, churches are no longer the primary student pipeline for Bible and Christian colleges due to decreased churchgoing nationwide. Still, churches and pastors are important connection points between faith-based institutions and prospective students. It‘s important then, for institutional leaders to look for ways to strengthen those connections, the authors advise.

One way to multiply connection points, according to Barna, is to develop non-degree programs offered in partnership with church leaders. According to research among U.S. practicing Christians and evangelicals, three in 10 practicing Christians (31 percent) and one-third of evangelicals (33 percent) express interest in “continued professional development that focuses on integrating faith and applying it to my field of work.”

“There is real hunger among faithful Christians for richer, more comprehensive biblical training—and such training happens to be the educational forte of Bible colleges and Christian universities,” Barna concludes.

Still, some evangelicals refrain from recommending Christian higher education institutions due to the financial burden students and families take on to attend.

Last year, the National Association of Evangelicals  the leaders of major denominations and ministries: Would you encourage young people to attend a Christian college over a state school even if it meant graduating with more debt? Thirty-five percent of evangelical leaders said yes, 57.5 percent said maybe, and 7.5 percent said no, according to the survey.

“Most evangelical leaders place a high value on Christian education, but they also believe that deciding where to go to college involves weighing several considerations, including debt,” said Leith Anderson, president of the NAE. “College often sets the direction for one‘s future. The decision of where to attend and the consequences of that decision should not be taken lightly.”