Baylor spiritual life center helps students find church homes

St. Francis Church at 301 Jefferson Ave., in Waco. Photograph taken on March 25, 2013. Photo credit: File Art

Baylor University is home to 14 religiously affiliated student organizations, while Waco is home to over 250 churches. Still, moving to the area and finding a church home can be difficult for new students.

“You could definitely church hop for four years; there are enough churches in Waco,” said Kristen Richardson, Baylor’s director of formation and Baptist Student Ministry associate chaplain.

There are also many of ways for students to explore their faith on campus. Baylor’s spiritual life department has connections to missions and off-campus ministry opportunities, provides pastoral care and residence chaplains and helped students charter Vertical Ministries, a campus wide, weekly gathering with worship and a message from the Bible.

In conjunction with the chaplain’s office, the spiritual life department puts on a church fair during Welcome Week to show incoming students some of their church options out in the community of Waco. This year, the fair had about 50 churches present to cater to different students, from different religious backgrounds.

Dr. Burt Burleson, Baylor’s university chaplain and dean for spiritual life, said that a church home is an important thing for college students. He said both the students and the church will benefit from connecting to one another.

“We would rather them be deeply committed to a congregation than be in our programs or go to Bible study with a resident chaplain,” Burleson said. “Even though we think we’re going to offer some things that are maybe unique.”

“We’re not the church,” Richardson said. “We need to be connecting students to churches.”

Burleson said there is a difference between seeking a church home and simply church hopping and picking a new place every week, though seeking a home may start with hopping around a bit.

“Church hopping is the experience of realizing, for the first time, Christians don’t all believe the same thing or Christians don’t all do it the same way,” Burleson said. “And while there might be many [students] going, ‘cool, alright,’ there might be many going, ‘what do I do?’ It’s like going to a restaurant and the menu is too large now.”

Richardson said this is a good time to experience news things. Richardson said her advice to students varies based on their interests and church background. She said she generally suggests visiting five to 10 churches before making a decision about a permanent congregation. Because some students may be overwhelmed by that many options, she sometimes recommends visiting just four to five places.

“Give yourself permission, I think, to be open and see where you’re led,” Burleson said. “I say to students don’t be closed.”

Richardson said it is her hope that students involved in campus religious organizations would meet people there that would connect them to a church body.

Baylor used to avoid Bible study groups and student religious organizations on campus because they didn’t want to get in the way of the churches, according to Burleson He said the department still shares that fear at times.

“We wouldn’t want a student just to be involved in [campus organizations],” Richardson said.

Baylor has residence hall chaplains and chaplains at the Spiritual Life Center who are available to answer questions and give guidance to students in all different walks of life.

“Community is a spiritual practice. You have to intentionally engage in community,” Burleson said.