Each fall, student leaders have the opportunity to connect with new students arriving on our campuses across the country. The nature of college ministry requires constant turnover, recruitment, and investment each year to keep ministries growing and thriving. While campus ministry staff work hard to connect with new students, ensuring your student leaders invest in incoming Freshmen is vital to this process. The question is, how do we Motivate and Equip student leaders to connect with and invest in new students?
Two points to focus on that may help motivate student leaders are Mission and Experience.
1. First, the Mission of a follower of Christ is to connect with non-believers and encourage other followers of Christ.
The jump from high school to college is one of the most significant transition times in life, and many students, even “church kids,” come to college unsure about what path they will take during these years. Challenge your leaders to reach out to new students because they may be the person who helps guide them down the correct path toward a growing walk with Christ.
2. Second, remind them of the experience they had coming to college.
Did an upperclassman invest in them? Did someone reach out that helped make them comfortable in their new setting? Then take the opportunity to do the same thing for another student. What if a leader needed help connecting and desired more investment from older students? Challenge them to be for someone else what they wish someone had been for them. Whatever the motivation, show your leaders that they have an excellent opportunity to make a tremendous impact in the life of a new student desperate for relationships, connection, and security in their new surroundings.
With the motivation and opportunity established, the next step is to give some hands-on tips to help connect with Freshmen.
1. Embrace the Awkward.
New connections and relationships usually do not start with a natural flow or ease. It will be awkward because new students are uncomfortable and nervous, which produces disjointed conversations and interactions. Help leaders know that this is ok, to expect odd interactions, and press through knowing this person is trying the best they can in their new situation. Refrain from letting the first impression set your final opinion about a new student. Know it will be awkward, and keep pushing and investing until you find some natural flow to your conversations and interactions.
2. Be the Guide.
An incoming student needs direction and advice navigating our college campuses. How do you buy books? Where are your classrooms? Which dining hall has better food? Which coffee shop is the best in town? Use these needs as an opportunity to resource the new student. Take a new student on a tour of the city or pick spots that are great hangouts and invite them to go and visit. Have a leader say, “there is no dumb question,” and maybe give an example of something they wondered when they arrived on campus and did not know who to ask. Have your leader show the new student they are interested in being a resource because they want the Freshmen to have a great first year on campus.
3. Always take Someone With You.
Always inviting someone along is a great way to spend time with a new student. Do you need to go to the grocery store? Invite a new student. Need to run an errand, go by Target, run to the bank, etc. Use these minor things as opportunities to spend time together. A car ride while running an errand gives you something to do while being able to talk as you go. First-year students have more time on their hands due to their lighter class loads and schedules. They usually look for things to do to fill their time, and these simple trips may be the starting points of great relationships.
4. Include Them in Your Life.
New students are people, not projects. Investing in Freshmen is not an assignment but the beginning of new relationships. So encourage leaders to invite new students to hang with their friends as they do everyday social events. This step can sometimes be challenging because leaders may worry that adding new people may change the social dynamic in their established relationships. Remind them that college is all about change, so relationships do not stay static. There are always people coming and going, and changes in the social fabric of college are constantly shifting. Adding new folks to a group, routine, or activity is part of life and will show a new student a genuine interest in them as an individual.
5. Be Ready to Be Left on Read.
New students are figuring out their path in college, and some will choose a different path. Leaders may be frustrated when a Freshman does not respond to texts, skips events, or disappears from the ministry. While this is frustrating, challenge them to keep reaching out (within reasonable limits) and know that investment is a long process.
Chad McClurg is the BCM director at the University of Louisiana Monroe. You can follow the ministry on Instagram @ulmbcm.