Chris Roller, FBC Rogers, Arkansas
In 24 years of student ministry, I’ve seen a lot of changes in students. As a student minister, here are some key things I see in the students you are about to greet as freshmen.
Less enthusiasm. I used to see students graduate and be excited to head to college and get plugged into a college ministry that looked something like the student ministry they grew up in. It seems, in the past 10 years that has changed. I see both students who grew up regularly attending church and those who did not, opting out when they arrive on campus. So often students grow up in church, volunteer to be a leader, invite people to church, share the Gospel, go through discipleship and then get to college and forget that it even existed. For some students it’s understandable as their parents help put priorities on things like sports and other extracurricular activities and only attend church when nothing else is going on. However, some grow up seeing church as a priority and still walk away.
Face to face is harder than it used to be. All my current students grew up in a digital age where they did not interact face to face as much as previous generations. So, going to a new school, with new people, with a new way of living, with a new church can be very overwhelming. On top of that, we push them to go to a new college ministry with students who have been going there for the last 1-3 years. This is why some students don’t jump in to getting involved.
Finding belonging is harder. For my high school students, they struggle when they do not see their “crowd” when they do show up to a college ministry. This leads them to immediately feel like an outsider who does not belong. I’ve heard our returning college students explain that they don’t get plugged into college ministry because, “it’s where the weird students are” or “I just don’t fit in”. My students who do find a home in a college ministry when they go away to college are engaged personally by students or mentors in that ministry. Students who make a personal connection are much more likely to get involved than students who only hear about your ministry from a flier or from a post on social media.
Lots of shiny new things. My students are often blown away by the number of things to do in college. From Greek life to sports and on-campus activities, they are inundated with choices and opportunities that go far beyond high school. Add freedom and new dating possibilities to the mix and you can see why students take their eyes off of God. They are distracted by a thousand shiny new things. We’re not going to be able to shut down everything that gets in the way of college ministry, but we can team up with some of these organizations. Start some Bible studies with students who are already involved in some of these different things, offer to cook for some of these organizations and use that to build relationships.
From big fish to freshmen. Many of our graduating seniors are looking for a place to serve. They want to serve on mission, lead Bible studies, and even be a part of reaching other students. These same highly motivated high school seniors take on a new persona as they start over as freshmen. Be ready to make ways for new students to serve. They want to lead. Make sure you are ready to help them step into those roles pretty quickly. As a student pastor, we spend a lot of time asking students to serve. Some students are expecting the same thing on college campuses and get frustrated when it doesn’t happen. Some of our college students come home every weekend, but if they are asked and engaged by a college ministry they will eventually say yes and get involved.
Attracted to the loudest voices. Our high school students are being pulled into more political and moral directions then I’ve ever seen. A lot of graduates are going to navigate to wherever the loudest people are. For this reason, some students feel intimidated in high school and college about going to church as the world loves to paint a picture of the church as people who do not care. College ministries that are not ashamed and live out a public testimony on campus also attract these students.
Care first. Finally, our high school graduates want people in their lives that care about them. This is true when they’re in high school and even more so when they get to college. One thing that I see many of our seniors do is find groups of people that love them and spend a lot of their time with them. If you can get a few influential leaders of those groups engaged, then you’ll end up with the whole group engaged. Remember, this is a hard time for graduates and there’s a lot of things changing. We need to keep loving them and be consistent in reaching out to them!