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How to stay Christian in college

(Photo: Unsplash/Scott Webb)
(Photo: Unsplash/Scott Webb)

If you aren’t careful, college just might shipwreck your faith.

A recent Lifeway Research poll found that “Two-thirds (66%) of American young adults who attended a Protestant church regularly for at least a year as a teenager say they also dropped out for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22.”

A closer look at the data reveals a particularly troubling trend: The No. 1 reason that respondents gave for why they stopped going to church was that they moved for college (34%).

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As the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed. If you’re a Christian who has just left your home behind and landed fresh on a college campus, it’s important to consider what it will take for you to stay a Christian in college.

I’ll happily admit that I stole (or rather, was inspired by) this title from a helpful book I was given when I went to seminary: How to Stay Christian in Seminary, by David Matthis and Jonathan Parnell, with a foreword by John Piper.

The authors warn that going to seminary is important, but that it can also be dangerous. The same goes for college. Going to college, especially if you go away to a secular college, can be a challenging time for young Christian students. The rigorous academic environment, peer pressure, and a plethora of temptations can make it difficult to stay grounded in your faith.

And while those who attend a strong Christian college, like Liberty University, will have faith-preserving and faith-building resources built into the environment and schedule, it’s still up to you, as a young person, to avail yourself of them so you are being both deliberate and self-aware in your faith walk. As I noted, even those who attend seminary and spend their entire college existence studying the Bible and biblical doctrine can still end up walking away from the faith if they’re not vigilant.

With intentionality and a few good choices, you can not only stay Christian but also grow in your faith during your college years. So, here are three strategies for staying Christian in college.

1. Join a healthy Gospel-preaching church

Attending a church that preaches the true Gospel message is crucial for maintaining your faith in college. When you arrive at college, you are going to have a major choice to make during your very first week. More specifically, on your very first Sunday: Will you get up and go to church?

Your parents won’t be there anymore to make you. The choice is yours now.

Let me encourage you to make this wise choice: Go. Once you force yourself out of bed, you’ll be glad you went.

But what kind of church should you go to? While there may be other factors to consider, here are three non-negotiable things that you should look for in your new church:

  • Expositional preaching: A healthy Gospel-preaching church will prioritize expositional preaching, which means teaching verse-by-verse through the Bible. This approach ensures that the preacher is expounding on the text’s intended meaning, rather than imposing his own interpretation (and yes, he should be a male preacher). This helps you to understand God’s Word more deeply and apply it to your life.
  • The true Gospel message: A healthy Gospel-preaching church will proclaim the true Gospel message, which emphasizes the problem of sin, the historicity of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and the offer of salvation for all who repent and believe. This message is central to the Christian faith and is essential for maintaining a strong relationship with God.
  • The authority of Scripture: A healthy Gospel-preaching church will uphold the authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture. This means that they will teach the Bible as the infallible, inspired Word of God, which is relevant and applicable to our lives today.

College students should look for a church that emphasizes these characteristics. As theologian J.I. Packer said, “The Church is the conservatory of the Bible. It is the place where the Word of God is normally and naturally studied.”

2. Make time to study the Bible

College is a busy time, but making time to study the Bible is essential for staying Christian in college. A good church is important, but just as important is your personal study of the Bible. As the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

College is a time when many students develop habits that will last a lifetime. By cultivating the habit of studying the Bible, you are laying a strong foundation for your spiritual growth. Regular Bible study also provides spiritual nourishment and helps you to grow in your relationship with God. In John 15:5, Jesus said,  “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Don’t let college become a black hole for your devotional life. If you look up one day and realize that there is dust on your Bible, it means that there is probably spiritual dust on your soul as well. Don’t ever become so busy studying your assigned textbooks that God’s book goes untouched.

To maintain your Christian faith in college, make it a priority to set aside time each day for Bible study and prayer.

3. Make good friends

Friendships play a significant role in shaping our moral character and spiritual growth. As simple as it sounds, it’s essential to make good friends who will encourage and support you in your faith. Remember that the friends you choose to have in your life will unavoidably have a profound impact on your moral formation, good or bad.  As Proverbs 13:20 says,  “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”

Good Christian friends can also hold you accountable and encourage you in your faith. The world, the flesh, the devil, and secular influences, combined with newfound freedom and the loss of your traditional accountability structures, are going to tempt you in ways you’ve never encountered before.

Having close Christian friends to whom you can confess your sin, and who can support you in resisting temptation, is an often overlooked but crucial aspect of maintaining your Christian faith and practice during your years of college life. As Hebrews 10:24-25 reminds us:

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Do your friends “stir you up to love and good works”? If not, it’s time to find new friends.

When choosing friends, seek out those who share your commitment to Christ, biblical truth, and your desire to grow in your faith.


Staying Christian in college is not merely about maintaining a set of doctrines that you agree to on paper; it’s about solidifying one’s identity in Christ and growing deeper in your walk with the Lord. The college years are formative, shaping not only academic and career paths but also personal values and character. Remaining steadfast in the Christian faith provides a moral compass, a foundation, that will also help you when you leave college and are forced to navigate the tumultuous waters of moral relativism and depravity out in the world.

Staying Christian in college can be challenging, but by joining a healthy Gospel-preaching church, making time to study the Bible, and making good, like-minded friends, you can maintain your Christian faith and grow in your relationship with God. And always remember the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 4:16:

“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Originally published at the Standing for Freedom Center. 

William Wolfe is a visiting fellow with the Center for Renewing America. He served as a senior official in the Trump administration, both as a deputy assistant secretary of defense at the Pentagon and a director of legislative affairs at the State Department. Prior to his service in the administration, Wolfe worked for Heritage Action for America, and as a congressional staffer for three different members of Congress, including the former Rep. Dave Brat. He has a B.A. in history from Covenant College, and is finishing his Masters of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Follow William on Twitter at @William_E_Wolfe

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