At Azusa Pacific, the term “community” is ingrained in everything we do. It is one of our four university cornerstones. It appears 15 times in the about section of the APU website. Along with “so good,” “so much yes” and “intentional,” it is an inescapable platitude flung to and fro as if it still carries some semblance of weight. I fear it no longer does.

The battle fought here is not against the word “community,” though. Despite its overuse on campus, it is a perfectly fine word. According to the New World Encyclopedia, the term “community” was originally derived from combining the Latin prefix con-, meaning “together,” and the root munis, which relates to performing services. Performing services together is a beautiful characterization of what APU ought to be, and the term “community” captures this well. 

The problem, rather, lies in ourselves. We must answer a vital question: As often as we say the word, are we truly embodying community with our fellow students on campus every day?

In the latter portion of Matthew 23, Jesus proclaims seven woes over the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees — people who spoke of righteous acts but did not practice them lovingly. Christ refers to them as hypocrites six times in that passage, occasionally using other colorful descriptors to help make his point: “blind fools,” “blind guides” and “brood of vipers.” Christ spent a significant portion of His time on earth detesting hypocrisy. May we not be guilty of the same thing.

Unfortunately, genuine community is lacking in society now more than ever. According to a 2018 study by Cigna, nearly half of American adults sometimes or always feel alone and/or left out.

Moreover, the study found that Generation Z is the loneliest generation alive. Sixty-nine percent of Generation Z respondents said they feel like no one really knows them well. In other words, college students are one of the loneliest demographics that exists.

Pretending these statistics don’t permeate our Christian campus would be ignorant, reckless and deadly. I have had friends leave APU because they couldn’t find genuine community on this campus. I have read online reviews claiming that APU students are judgemental, entitled and fake. Unfortunately, I have even experienced disingenuous friendships myself. 

As with our lofty university slogan, “God first since 1899,” even as we proclaim the goal we strive after, may we never stand idle and pretend we have already reached it. We must fight to put God first every day, and we certainly have not done so without fault for 120 years. Living in a godly, selfless community with one another is equally ambitious, and can only happen through selflessness, sacrifice and never-ceasing prayer.

However, hope is far from lost. While fake friendships surround us every day at APU, so do friendships that radically embody the love of Christ. While I have seen the ugly consequences of broken relationships, I have also had friends on this campus drop everything to meet me in my time of need. I’ve had people I didn’t know offer me words of encouragement that changed me from the inside out. I have sung songs at the top of my lungs with brothers and sisters who love Jesus more than I do.

It may be hard to see, but Christ is here because His people are here. He is able to transform our university if we will step up and allow him to. So, where do we start?

Perhaps the better question is how do we start, and the answer is small. Genuine community is not primarily built at mixers, ice cream socials or dance rallies. It is built in dorm rooms, classrooms and unintentional run-ins on Cougar Walk. It is built in the dining hall when you sit next to that freshman who’s sitting alone again. It is built on the trolley when you don’t avoid making eye contact with the person next to you.

I will be the first to admit that I fall dreadfully short of the community-builder Christ calls me to be. I have asked “how are you?” without truly caring about the answer. I have failed to reach out to people I knew needed it. I have forgotten about people I once called my friends.

As a Christ-centered community of college students, we are uniquely positioned to end the epidemic of loneliness that has afflicted our generation. I challenge you to reach out to someone new today — like, actually. Step out in faith, and let God use your willing heart to transform our campus. We are in this together.