CARBONDALE — As Carbondale gears up for the return of Southern Illinois University students, it is not just apartment complexes, retailers and restaurants that look forward to the return of nearly 15,000 young people. All across the community, churches and faith communities are eager to see SIU students return to the city.
“Our town just doesn’t feel the same without the students,” explains Jacob Swain of The View Church. “I look forward to the students returning and to having some of them in our church.”
Swain says the presence of students benefits both Carbondale and the congregations that many of them choose to attend.
“In my experience, they bring a level of energy and creativity to church and they tend to come from a variety of church backgrounds so you get a lot of different ideas on how to do ministry. Often, they are things that maybe we didn’t think of before.”
Greg Darling, staff pastor at Vine Church, says students are an integral part of his church. In fact, more than one-third of attendees at Vine are college students.
“Students are paramount to what Vine church is. This church was established for the sake of SIU and reaching students,” he says.
University students not only attend regular worship services on Sunday mornings, but many choose to participate in on-campus ministries designed for students. Swain says he often advises students to get involved in groups such as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
“We encourage students to plug in to InterVarsity. We believe in what they do. We want the students with us, but we thing InterVarsity does a great job,” he says.
Team leader Greg Chimitris of InterVarsity says the organization looks to help student grow in faith.
“We’re a group of students from all sorts of different faith backgrounds and Christian traditions,” he explains. “We are a student-led organization that wants to help students take their faith seriously and see it impact not only their studies but the rest of their lives, too.”
Both Darling and Swain emphasize that students are important parts of local churches.
“We find that university students who are Christians have great servant hearts and so we find a lot of students filling in ministry roles within the church. I think practically every student in our church serves in some capacity. We find that they are eager to help out.”
He adds that having the students increases the ability for the church to serve the community and others.
“Without the students, there are not as many ministry opportunities,” he adds. Additionally, Swain explains that many Christian students are eager to share their faith.
“They are like missionaries on campus. If our goal is to take the gospel to the community, a significant part of that community is other students on campus, so we have to empower our students to share and reach out,” Swain says.
Chimitris says college is a great time to reach students because many young adults are searching for direction and answers.
“College is a critical time in faith journeys no matter what the person’s background,” he says. “It’s a time when they are open to new ideas and asking deep questions about life. Some come to college from Christian homes and what they find at college can take them away from faith, but for a lot of students, it is a time where faith really becomes theirs and it thrives.
All of the church leaders say they look forward to the beginning of the fall semester.
“The return of the students is a time of momentum and excitement for us, seeing who the new people are that Jesus is going to be bringing and with the hope of what He’s going to be doing in their lives,” Darling says.
Chimitris adds that student move-in brings back both leaders and new students to InterVarsity.
“It’s very exciting for us. Our students are back and it’s a time where we are meeting new students and where we can begin to get a sense of community — developing a place where people can follow Jesus together,” he says. “We are excited for our students and for the new students that we will be meeting over the next several weeks.”