Companion on the Journey: Peer Influence on Spiritual Development in College Residential Communities


Companion on the Journey: Peer Influence on Spiritual Development in College Residential Communities


The purpose of this thesis project is to examine a new opportunity for students to explore spiritual development beyond programs offered through the office of university ministry. Central to this project is the idea of how peers influence spiritual development in residence hall environments. This project was selected because of documented declines in spiritual practices (i.e., attending church services, active prayer life, volunteering) by current college students, and relevant research that indicates colleges have significantly shifted their focus to ensure students gain employable skills – this at the unintentional expense of addressing inner-life development. Specifically, at Gonzaga University, two contradictory trends were observed when analyzing campus surveys and data collected during the admission process – there is a clear desire expressed by students to grow in the area of spirituality but a significant drop in religious activities over their four years of being students.

Based upon this information, a joint project between the university ministry,
housing and residence life, and the office of student wellbeing was proposed. The central element of this project was the development of a resident minister (RM) position who would live in community with first- and second-year students. This thesis project describes the process of developing this position and the impacts of peer residential ministers in the communities where they lived. The placement of spiritual peer mentors in residence is unique and significantly different from traditional resident assistants (RAs).
Additionally, the residence hall setting provided an environment for daily interaction and engagement as opposed to singular programming models.

This project was evaluated through ethnographic observational data, regularly scheduled debrief and support meetings with the RMs, and a corresponding pre-test and post-test given to the residents in these communities. The length of this project and evaluation was conducted over an entire academic year. Two communities were selected for residential ministers and one control community was used to compare impact. Communities with resident ministers had approximately 24 students in their immediate charge. RMs also worked with the staff of resident directors and resident assistants to provide programming and support for the entire building. The control community included approximately 36 students. A select sample of this community was included in pre-test and post-test surveying.

Pre-tests were administered in the three communities (resident minister-A,
resident minister-B, and the control community-C) during the first 14 days of the Fall semester (2015). The test consisted of 30 questions to establish a baseline from which to judge any eventual relative change in six pre-determined criteria focused on spiritual and inner life development. These six areas were: (1) decision-making - parental/peer influence, (2) values clarification, (3) behaviors of spirituality, (4) sense of meaning and
purpose, (5) connection to community, and (6) awareness of personal change.

Before the final exams in the spring semester (2016), an identical 30-question post-test was administered to provide data to assess the influence of the residential ministers. In addition to the original questions in the pre-test, 10 questions were added to the post-test to allow respondents to provide feedback on their year and on the RM if respondents were members of community A or B.


Baldwin, Eric T.




Copyright, Eric T. Baldwin




Project Thesis
Date Added
November 29, 2023
VTS Doctoral Theses
Baldwin, Eric T., “Companion on the Journey: Peer Influence on Spiritual Development in College Residential Communities,” Bishop Payne Library at Virginia Theological Seminary, accessed April 14, 2024,