As a campus-based collegiate minister I have adopted the phrase, “college is a season, church is forever.” I share this with incoming students and make it a top priority to help students connect with a local church body within the first few weeks of the semester. On the flip side, I share this advice with church partners to encourage efforts to reach and retain collegians in the local church. There are some fundamental things churches can do to welcome college students at the start of any academic semester.
First and foremost, pray about how God might use your church to reach collegians; then, do your homework. Research the college campus nearest your church—the university website and social media accounts are excellent resources. Peruse student life, determine the top majors, and study the academic calendar. Make note of freshman move-in dates and events taking place within the first two or three weeks of each semester. Strategically plan church events to complement, not conflict with the academic calendar.
Think about your church body and identify qualities and opportunities you have to offer collegians. Perhaps you have a well-established college or young adult ministry already in place and filtering new students into the ministry of the church is natural. Conversely, if you do not have a college ministry, consider how to integrate collegians into the life of your church. Who in your church would make great mentors, provide a meal, or give encouragement to the student in a new city away from home? Consider an adopt-a-student ministry and match new college students with church members. Evaluate areas of need that would benefit from the energy of a new to town college student seeking community and belonging in the comfort of biblical community.
There are so many needs within the church—greeter, hospitality, preschool, kids, students, security, music, tech, etc. Prepare now how your church can move a college student from first time guest to active church partner. Serving alongside others is one of the fastest ways to feel a sense of belonging and set up a trajectory of spiritual growth.
One of the greatest obstacles to reaching collegians is proximity. Churches often are not welcome to freely roam the college campus. Sometimes churches are granted access or allowed to participate in campus activities, but unless it’s a faith-based university, this is unlikely. Consider partnering with existing ministries already on the campus near you. Don’t reinvent the wheel—give college students a picture of unity and cooperation in Gospel ministry. Support the campus ministry of your denomination or church affiliation. If it doesn’t exist, with kindness and integrity follow university procedures and start building relationships. Dine at the local college hot spots, work remote from the coffee shop next to campus, place your church in proximity to college students and join God’s work amongst the next generation.
College students will spend approximately four years in undergraduate academia. Their world view will evolve and change. They will be challenged and pushed to evaluate why they believe what they believe. They will build friendships of a lifetime, make fun memories, and likely hit the highest of highs and lowest of lows. May the church show that Jesus sustains. May the church welcome, embrace, guide and disciple collegians now for a lifetime of mutual blessing.
Tiffany Hudson is a BCM Director at Vanderbilt University. You can follow the ministry on Instagram @bcmatvp.