How Campus Ministry Created a Sense of Belonging
Many young people are lonely, which Springtide defines as a persistent state of being in which a person feels isolated, unsupported, and without close friends. Nearly 40 percent of the young people we surveyed for our report Belonging: Reconnecting America’s Loneliest Generation say they have no one to talk to and feel left out. Although it seems that group involvement would deter loneliness, our research shows just being a part of a group is not enough. Fifty-five percent of young people we surveyed say they will not remain engaged in an organization if they consistently feel like an outsider.
In today’s post, Springtide Research Intern Hannah Turner describes her experience with campus ministry, and how that organization not only provided her a safe place to land but also taught her what it takes to truly create belonging.
The start of college was a whirlwind of new faces, places, and responsibilities. I moved 20 minutes from my house, but into a new world. It was characterized by intimidation, imposter syndrome, and the pressure to find my people. I pulled out my laptop and frantically found the “clubs and activities” page, determined to find the one that would shape my college experience. I tried out for debate and dance team—I didn’t make either. Back in my dorm, we all told stories about our day and goals for the year over a pizza. The laughs we shared lightened the rejection I felt, but it did not ease the loneliness.
As I felt myself losing hope in the college experience, I noticed a message from a staff member of a Christian ministry that I had previously expressed interest in. She wanted to grab coffee so we could get to know each other.
My conversation with Jenny started like any other that week as we grieved the busyness of college. But then something different happened: she listened and asked me questions. She never marketed the ministry or tried to prove that she had it all together. Instead, Jenny tried to connect with me over my story.
From then on, each email from Chi Alpha—the campus ministry—was highlighted by Jenny’s kindness. And in addition to the emails, Jenny personally invited me to their events. I quickly agreed to join her small group, a weekly Bible study, and to meet one-on-one with Jenny on a regular basis. I had grasped what feeling alone in college was like, but now I understood the richness of a community based on shared values—something unimaginable for me before college and before meeting Jenny.
It made me keep wanting to return to Chi Alpha.
I did, and it was through their student leader training that I too learned to create a space of belonging for others. These past three years in this community have made me immensely grateful for my ministry’s structure and how we interact with our campus. Everyone is taught how to be a host: serve others first, as Jesus did. This is central and applies to how we engage with our peers in every way. At every Chi Alpha event, we are encouraged to prioritize those we don’t know—forgoing catching up with our friends, and instead making new friends. Then, as we meet in small groups, we are further encouraged to meet one-on-one with someone and prioritize hearing their stories.
I know that many people genuinely care for their students but are not sure how to communicate this through action. That is why I wanted to highlight my experience with the structure that Chi Alpha has provided. Communities that prioritize young people’s well-being must recognize the crucial role of vision and structure in cultivating a safe space—as I’ve seen done with Chi Alpha.
Hannah Turner is an intern on the Springtide Research team.