Pepperdine students gather for an evening Bible study in Malibu Gathering’s Pastor Brian Kelly’s backyard. The devotion was led by church member Cheyene Renner. Photo courtesy of Meagen Renner
Malibu faith leaders said they are working to support Pepperdine students and increase their church attendance. In a September Graphic survey of 135 students, only 23% of students said they attend church frequently.
The religious affiliations of all undergraduate students are predominantly Christian — 18.5% Catholic, 11.8% Church of Christ and 53.1% identify as “other Christian,” according to a fall 2020 Pepperdine survey. With over 10 churches in the area, students have several opportunities to attend church regularly.
The Rev. Matt Murphy at Our Lady of Malibu and pastors Brian Kelly at the Malibu Gathering and Eric Wilson at University Church of Christ said they would love for more young adults to attend their churches and prioritize offering a place of love and support for Pepperdine students.
“This is the time when you have those extra freedoms and it’s very easy to drift away from your faith, very, very easy,” Murphy said. “So we provide that space for them [students] to worship very close by. So I hope they’ll take advantage of that.”
Our Lady of Malibu
A January Graphic survey conducted through social media and email found that 100% of students who attend a specific church indicated the location as a main reason for their attendance. Murphy said he believes this is why so many students attend Our Lady of Malibu, because it is the closest Catholic church to campus.
Murphy said around 60 to 80 Pepperdine students attended every Sunday in 2020 before the pandemic. However, these numbers have declined and only 30 to 40 students attend Sunday services this semester.
Murphy said he reaches out to the Pepperdine community by staying connected to the Catholic Students Association and being available for students. Before COVID-19 restrictions, Murphy said he would sit in the Caf every Thursday to talk to or take confession from students.
“My goal has really been to engage the Catholic community up on the Pepperdine campus from day one,” Murphy said. “And I think because of those efforts, that’s why we get a lot of young people here.”
The Malibu Gathering
About six miles west on PCH from Our Lady of Malibu, the Malibu Gathering acts as another popular church students attend.
“When Pepperdine is in session, students make up maybe 20% of our church, there may be more, I don’t know,” Kelly said. “But there’s a noticeable difference when Pepperdine is in session compared to the summertime for sure.”
Kelly said the church doesn’t target Pepperdine students but acknowledges students do attend. Because of this, Kelly said he tries to relate to college students in his sermons.
“I try to think about what life is like,” Kelly said. “And I try to include part of my sermon development of what life is like for young people and try to touch on it that way.”
Malibu Gathering also offers student ministries for college students. Kelly said these ministries formed naturally as a result of the meaningful relationships between the students and the Church families.
University Church of Christ
Wilson, the preaching minister at University Church of Christ on campus, also said he values strong bonds over attendance. Wilson said the number of Pepperdine students who attend church on Sundays can vary from 20 to 75 people depending on the semester.
“What we tend to try to do is move into deep relationships with students and just care for them,” Wilson said. “It’s not about bringing in mass numbers quickly.”
Wilson said he believes the 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 to go 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 particularly as we are a community that is putting God and Jesus on full display for you.”
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