Pepperdine students gather for an evening Bible study in Pastor Brian Kelly’s backyard at the Malibu Gathering. The devotional was led by a member of the Cheyene Renner church. Photo courtesy of Meagen Renner
Malibu church leaders said they are working to support Pepperdine students and increase their church attendance. In a September survey by Graphic of 135 college students, only 23 percent of students said they attend church frequently.
The religious affiliations of all undergraduates are overwhelmingly Christian — 18.5% Catholic, 11.8% Church of Christ, and 53.1% identify as “other Christians,” according to a Fall 2020 Pepperdine investigation. With over 10 churches in the region, students have several opportunities to go to church regularly.
Reverend Matt Murphy at Our Lady of Malibu and Pastors Brian Kelly at Malibu Rally and Eric Wilson at University Church of Christ said they would like more young adults to attend their churches and prioritize providing a place of love and support for Pepperdine students.
“This is the time when you have these extra freedoms and it’s very easy to walk away from your faith, very, very easy,” Murphy said. “So we provide them with that space [students] worship near. So I hope they will take advantage of it.
Our Lady of Malibu
A January Graphic survey conducted via social media and email found that 100% of students who attend a specific church listed the location as their primary reason for attending. Murphy said he believes this is the reason so many students attend Our Lady of Malibubecause it is the closest Catholic church to campus.
Murphy said about 60 to 80 Pepperdine students attended every Sunday in 2020 before the pandemic. However, those numbers have dwindled and only 30-40 students are attending Sunday services this semester.
Murphy said he was reaching out to the Pepperdine community by staying connected to the Association of Catholic Students and be available to students. Before Restrictions related to COVID-19Murphy said he sits down at the Café every Thursday to talk or confess to students.
“My goal has really been to engage the Catholic community on the Pepperdine campus from day one,” Murphy said. “And I think it’s because of those efforts that we get a lot of young people here.”
The Malibu Gathering
About six miles west on PCH of Notre Dame de Malibu, the Malibu Rally acts as another popular church attended by students.
“When Pepperdine is in session, the students are maybe 20 percent of our church, there may be more, I don’t know,” Kelly said. “But there’s a noticeable difference when Pepperdine is in session versus summer for sure.”
Kelly said the church does not target Pepperdine students, but recognizes that students attend. Because of this, Kelly said he tries to relate to students in his sermons.
“I try to think about what life is,” Kelly said. “And I try to include some of the development of my sermon on what the life of young people is like and I try to approach it that way.”
Malibu Gathering also offers student ministries for students. Kelly said these ministries formed naturally as a result of the meaningful relationships between students and families in the Church.
University Church of Christ
Wilson, the preaching minister at University Church of Christ on campus, also said he values strong ties over regular attendance. Wilson said the number of Pepperdine students who attend church on Sundays can range from 20 to 75 depending on the semester.
“What we tend to try to do is build deep relationships with students and nurture them,” Wilson said. “It’s not about bringing in massive numbers quickly.”
Wilson said he thinks college age is the perfect time for people to discover the answers to their questions about life.
“If you’re trying to figure out where you’re going and what direction you’re going to take, it would be great for you to be connected to a community of people to support you,” Wilson said. “And especially since we are a community that values God and Jesus for you.”
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Email Lydia duPerier: [email protected]