University church keeps young adults engaged

By Renee Elder, Special Contributor…

Many United Methodist congregations watch helplessly as their high school graduates fade from view, “graduating out of the church” as they leave high school, says the Rev. Dana McKim, pastor of The Village Church at Pfeiffer University.

“Local churches don’t know what to do with them,” Mr. McKim explains. “Sunday morning is not an optimal time for engagement of college students.”

Dana McKim

The problem led Mr. McKim to The Village Church on the campus of United Methodist-related Pfeiffer University, his alma mater.

“Here, we are graduating people into the church,” Mr. McKim says. “We do that by letting them take charge of it on their own.”

In 2007, the former Pfeiffer campus chapel in Misenheimer, N.C., population 700, became a full-fledged chartered congregation of the United Methodist Church. Today, Mr. McKim serves as pastor, and students and non-students combine to serve as The Village Church Council, its governing body.

Church attendance is never mandatory, but university officials keep open the option by reserving the 10 a.m. slot each Wednesday for worship. No classes, meetings, or other campus events take place during that time.

As a result, students find their way into the church and many go on to participate and lead. One recent Wednesday found more than 100 congregants—the majority students—singing along with a four-piece band as words to contemporary hymns flashed across a massive video screen overhead.

Diamond Pate, 21, a senior, called her time at the university “the best four years of my life,” crediting Pfeiffer’s unique campus congregation for helping develop her faith and putting her on track for a life of Christian leadership.

No silo

The university also encourages students to look for opportunities to serve at home and abroad. Mr. McKim organizes a trip to Guatemala every year at spring break.

Patty Meyers, the school’s Christian education coordinator, leads faculty and students in a small group prayer after Wednesday worship, focusing on missionaries the church helps sponsor in Guatemala, Africa and other places.

“God has done so much out of this small place,” Ms. Meyers concludes.

Pfeiffer has about 850 students enrolled on its main campus and another 1,200 who attend classes at satellite locations near Charlotte and Raleigh. Students come from 35 different countries and all parts of the U.S.

Vera DeFusco, 20, of New Jersey, competes on Pfeiffer’s swim team. The combination of faith-based learning and the “small, family feeling” of the campus led her to enroll.

In 2007, the former Pfeiffer campus chapel in Misenheimer, N.C., population 700, became a full-fledged chartered congregation of the United Methodist Church. PHOTOS BY RENEE ELDER

Double-majoring in youth ministry and Christian missions, Ms. DeFusco is involved in the Peer Ministry Team and serves as a sports chaplain, supporting and praying for the university’s athletic teams. The program is one of many that are organized and run by students.

“We follow them; we don’t make them follow us,” says Sherri Barnes, associate director for church and university relations and associate pastor of The Village Church.

While the campus church maintains a traditional order of worship, it allows plenty of room for creativity. On Halloween Wednesday, the congregation enjoyed a high-spirited “Zombie Chapel.” The following week, the All Saints Service was a serious, formal liturgy in memory of congregation members and associates who had died in the past year.

Mr. McKim compares typical campus ministries to “silos” that operate separately from the rest of college life. At Pfeiffer, the church and the school are more integrated.

Overall, members of the United Methodist Church are older, on average, than the general U.S. population; individuals under age 40 are increasingly under-represented. Church membership rolls are shrinking. Mr. McKim believes it doesn’t help that some universities—even Christian ones—focus on academic learning to the exclusion of spiritual development. That’s not happening at Pfeiffer.

“Here, you don’t have to check your faith at the door,” he says.

Ms. Elder, a freelance writer in Raleigh, N.C., wrote this article for the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to

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