In 1940, author Thomas Wolfe declared, “You can’t go home again,” and yet, every summer, thousands of college students make a valiant effort to prove him wrong. Summer provides a unique opportunity for ministry, but as students return and attempt to readjust to life at home, integrating them back into your group is often easier said than done. As the school year ends and homecomings ensue, be sure to keep these keys in mind as you seek to reconnect with your returnees.
Be strategic in your approach.
First, understand that reconnection doesn’t begin the moment your students roll back into town. For your students to feel as though they’re a part of a ministry family when they come back, it’s imperative that they feel as though they’re a part of the family when they’re away. Fortunately, a little bit of love can go a long way.
Juggling all of the day-to-day responsibilities of ministry is hard enough without attempting to stay in touch with students who have left home. Fortunately, we live in a world in which preserving connections is easier than ever. Social networking sites like Facebook provide an easy way to make your transplanted students feel as though they are still part of the group. By now you probably consider yourself a proficient wall-poster to say the least.
On the other hand, it’s easy to forget the importance of a personal touch. Sure, there is benefit to the all-too-common mass e-mail or message to the ministry Facebook group, but true value is conveyed best in intentionality. Even if it’s only one or two a day, never underestimate the impact a personal e-mail or phone call makes. Consider involving key leaders or adult volunteers in the process as well. Although it will take more time, the return will likely be greater than any other promotional tool you use, and even more importantly, the personal touch will reinforce the idea that your transplanted students are truly cared for as part of a family worth reconnecting with.
Be smart in your programming.
While no one sets out to be irrelevant, foolish decisions in programming can easily set summertime ministries up for failure. Long gone are carefree summer days with little to no responsibility. Many of today’s students will spend their time in class or at work, and you need to take their unique needs into consideration when making summer ministry plans. In days past, a calendar full of events was a surefire way to reconnect students. However, with these students’ busy schedules, the key is quality in the time spent as a ministry rather than quantity. Incorporate a variety of types of programming in your summer calendar, but in every aspect, make aims to include students in the planning process. Not only will it help keep things relevant, but it also validates the notion that they are an indispensable part of the body. Involvement in the ministry becomes an essential part of their week, rather than simply another item to be added to an already busy schedule.
In addition, don’t overlook the fact that students who left just months ago aren’t returning exactly the same. They will be experiencing some growing pains as they readjust from life at school to life back at home. Ministries seeking to reconnect with students should keep these unique struggles in mind as well. Summers can be incredibly fun times of growth, but for some students, they won’t be without some frustration.
Summer can truly be some of the most productive days of ministry, and as you wrestle with how to integrate your newly-arrived transplants, the bottom line is being willing to move past the idea that reconnection is simply about a formula. Until you are willing to make the investment necessary to show your students they’re a part of the family, as well as take the time to hear their thoughts on programming, frustration will continue to shape your summers. Mr. Wolfe may have thought one could never return home, but may our ministries this summer tell a different tale.