The Spiritual Lives of Christian College Students, by Todd W. Hall, PhD

An introduction to five-part series based upon Todd’s five-year research project on the spirituality of students at Christian colleges.

The data from more than 3,000 Christian college students across the United States and Canada provides a fascinating snapshot of how students are doing spiritually.

by Todd W. Hall, PhD

One of the most important goals of Christian colleges and universities is to help students grow spiritually and develop their character. Likewise, one of the biggest challenges universities like Biola face is evaluating how we are doing in this area. In fact, secular accrediting agencies have begun asking such schools for evidence that they are assessing and improving student spiritual development, since it is a core part of our mission.

Spirituality can never be evaluated perfectly, but I believe we can obtain useful indicators of where people are in their spiritual development process. The whole issue of measuring spirituality is a complex one beyond the focus of this blog series, but I will address this in another blog post. Before we start measuring anything, however, we need a theologically and psychologically informed theory of spiritual maturity and development.

For the past 15 years, I have been working on such a model of spiritual development. The Reader’s Digest version is that theology, psychology and brain science are converging in suggesting that spiritual development is about loving relationships with God and others, and that relationships change our brain, soul, and ability to love. As author Robert Karen eloquently put it: “We are loved into loving.” I call this model “relational spirituality” (see articles on my relational spirituality model here).

This journey has led me to develop ways of measuring and assessing relational spirituality, which in turn led to the pursuit of research on the spirituality of students attending Christian colleges in the hopes of helping these colleges answer the crucial question: Are our students growing spiritually?

In 2003, I headed up a talented research team in launching of a large study designed to track the spiritual development of 500 Christian college students from freshman to senior year. Funded by The John Templeton Foundation and Biola University, the research involved in depth interviews and twice-a-year surveys about each student’s spiritual practices and relationship with God.

A year later, I began a second research project that allowed Christian colleges to measure 22 indicators of students’ spiritual lives using the Spiritual Transformation Inventory (STI) that I developed in the early stages of the longitudinal study. To date, more than 3,000 students from nearly 40 Christian colleges across the United States and Canada have participated. Together, the studies provide a fascinating snapshot of how students at Christian colleges are doing spiritually. And the results may surprise you.

Stay tuned for the next blog in the series as I offer the first of five brief reflections synthesized from five years of national data and the four-year longitudinal study.

Next: Christian College Students are Secure but Unpracticed Spiritually