Moving a College Student from Attender to Engager in Your Church

Nick Parsons
Three college girls pose for a picture inside church

You’ve heard it before. Maybe you have felt the frustration. What is wrong with this generation? Why can’t we get them to engage in our church? We tend to assume the problem is with them. Maybe part of the problem is with us. Maybe we haven’t created the right kind of space for them to engage. Maybe we are assuming they are going to connect like previous generations. Maybe they are looking for different things. 

Personally, I believe that students want to grow spiritually. I believe they want to engage. And we have the wonderful, God-given, life changing task in front of us of leading them toward Jesus and engagement in our churches. We get the opportunity to help them live their lives for Jesus in college in a way that transforms the rest of their life. As a church college pastor, here are some thoughts that I hope you find helpful in moving students in your church from attender to engager… 


Mission & vision are at the core of the gospel. Therefore, mission & vision are at the core of the church. Students want to engage in something meaningful. Students desire mission & vision. Some questions worth asking are… 

  • Does your stated mission/vision line up with what you are actually doing?
  • Is your mission/vision inspiring? 
  • How are you actively seeking to involve students in your mission/vision? 

Mission & Vision are our chance to inspire students to gospel thinking & gospel living. Students are not looking primarily for great programs. They are primarily looking for a worthwhile mission & vision. Figure out how to keep that at the forefront. Figure out how to invite them into it. Keep the main thing the main thing. The gospel is all about life change. Don’t get distracted. 


You need to inspire your whole staff to love, value, and pursue college students. Gone are the days where that is just the college pastor’s job. While it is primarily his job, that does not mean it is no one else’s responsibility. Remember the goal – to get students involved in our churches, not only in our college ministries. This takes a whole staff focus and effort. Students are looking for a place where they are seen, valued, and cared for by the whole staff team. Here are some ideas… 

  • Talk about the value of and pray for college students often in your staff meetings.
  • Have someone other than the college team follow up with a college student sometimes.
  • Get students serving! As college students serve in various areas, meet with them and get to know them. 
  • Think about college students when planning church events & initiatives. 
  • Gameplan on how to get to know college students and their stories in a personal way.
  • Get college students on church mission trips with your staff and high level leaders.
  • Brainstorm how to spend personal time with college students over just getting them to events and programs. 

College student’s love language is time. We have to genuinely care for them. We have to genuinely love them. We have to care more about what we can do for them than what they can do for us. Every college student is a gift, an opportunity, and a resource to steward for God’s glory and their good. 

This requires a high level of intentionality in our systems as we want to take every college student that God gives us one step closer to becoming a true disciple of Jesus Christ. Think about the potential impact – churches, families, marriages, workplaces, generational life change. This is not just about college. This is about their lives. The stakes are too high for our whole staff to not shoulder this responsibility and joy. 

Never forget – We fight for their heart even when they don’t want to. We pursue them. Engagement leads to engagement. We engage them so they engage Jesus. 


What is the church? Though not a complete definition – a church is a faith family pursuing God together. We have to build a church worth engaging in. We have to be a family away from family. We have to help them have a college community and a multigenerational church community. We have to preach/teach the Bible boldly in love and in a way that practically applies and has meaning for their lives. We have to be real. They can smell fake from a mile away. We have to celebrate college students and give them a meaningful place at the table. 

A lot of this goes along with #1 & #2. They build on each other. But here are a few more thoughts & questions to keep on the front of your brain… 

  • Do you have good systems to know where college students are in your growth pathway and how to take them to the next step? 
  • Do you intentionally follow up with each college student to build a friendship, hear their story, and take them their next step? 
  • Do you treat them as just “the college students” or as meaningful members of your church?
  • Is it clear where and how a college student would connect and grow in your church? 
  • Is your discipleship and equipping pathway clear and practical? Students want to engage in a church that practically helps them be a disciple. 

Never forget home plate. It is that they love Jesus, obey Him, and reach the world. Don’t overcomplicate it. Love them. Pursue them. Meet with them. Hear their story. Remember when you moved away to college and all you felt. Be a home for them. 


Don’t give up! This can be a process. But the fruit is too valuable to give up. Keep going. They see effort and it matters to them. Teach them what the church is and why it matters. Meet them where they are at and help them love Jesus. They are going to fail. They are going to mess up. Be there for them and point them continually back to the cross of Jesus Christ. Remind them of grace. And Inspire them to live the life that God has called them to live. 

And don’t forget… 

  1. Connect well with campus ministries. They exist to reach the campus and connect students to the church. Work with them not against them (Campus ministries: work with the church and not against it). 
  2. Remember they are in process. They are busier than they have ever been in their lives. So, make the right meaningful asks
  3. Beg God for fruit. Though principles and leadership are good, God is the one that brings growth. He is the one we look to and are dependent on. Beg Him for the lives and souls of college students. If we don’t own our campus, who will? 

I pray this helped you. Clearly I cannot dive deep into every single facet of this in 1,000 words. Feel free to email me with questions – nick@cpclex.org. 

Nick Parsons is the College Pastor at Center Point Church in Lexington, KY. You can follow him on Instagram @nickgparsons1 and the ministry @collegecpc.

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