Every college town in North America is gearing up for the most exciting time of the year. It’s time for the fall semester–it’s game time! Students are on their way back to their campuses by the thousands.
According to the National Center of Education Statistics, there were 21.8 million college students who attended colleges and universities in the Fall of 2013. From all indications, that number will continue to grow as the Millennials and Generation Z find their way to campus. Colleges and universities are reporting record numbers of applicants and enrollment. Going to college has increasingly become a norm for many.
Studies also indicate that students involved in church during their high school years are increasingly not finding their way to churches when they reach college. Why the disconnect? Why the drop-out rate?
I have my theories, however, I am convinced that if churches began to make deep investments into college ministry, we would see more churches with college students involved in the overall ministries of our churches and campus ministries.
College students make decisions about what they’re going to be involved with during their college career within the first two weeks of their freshman year. That’s why it is crucial to be present for college students from the very beginning. If your church is in a college town, think of ways you can connect with freshmen as they enter your community. What are ways that will get you and your college ministry in the same place? Be creative. College students love out-of-the- box ideas. They also value authenticity. There must be a correlation between creativity and being authentic when it comes to connecting with college students. And always give focus to freshman ministry–it will pay huge dividends in years to come.
Here are four ways your church can get connected with college students this upcoming school year:
1. Connect with the local Baptist Collegiate Ministry on the campus near your church.
There are nearly 800 collegiate ministries affiliated through the Southern Baptist Convention on college campuses in the United States. Many of these ministries (called Baptist Campus Ministry, Baptist Student Ministry, Baptist Student Union, Christian Challenge, etc.) are often staffed by a full-time campus minister or volunteer from the community and supported by state Baptist conventions. These ministries are most often connected to the college or university as a recognized student organization or have a status that gives them access to the campus. Contact the local campus ministry to see how you could help with that ministry. Volunteer to provide some food or partner with a special outreach. Often, these ministries do need financial support, but more than that, they would love to have volunteers for mentoring and connecting students to the local church.
If you do not know who your local campus minister is, check out the BCMLife website by clicking HERE.
2. Pray for your local college campus.
Make it a priority for your church to pray consistently for the students, professors, and administration of your local campus. Pray that the Lord will give individuals in your church the opportunity to interact with people from your local campus within your community. Pray that relationships with the university community will develop between them and people within your church.
On the weekend before classes begin, encourage your church to take prayer walks on the campus of your local university. Have them pray that the grounds of that campus are claimed for Christ. Pray for students on that campus who are followers of Jesus to engage their campus with the gospel.
Churches that pray consistently and specifically for their local campuses will develop a heart that is stirred to see college students come to know Christ and to walk close to Him.
3. Find a spot for college students in your church.
College students are looking for community. It’s important that churches find a space for college students to meet with each other for Bible Study and fellowship. Remember that the traditional Sunday school time may not always be the best time for college students to gather. What would it look like if your church offered an alternative time for students to meet? Find some leaders in your church who love college students and are gifted at developing relationships. Find some good resources that will give students opportunities to grow in what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. If you need some help, check out ThreadsMedia.com.
Be deliberate to connect college students with multiple generations in your church. Find opportunities for college students to be in the same space as senior adults. Cross-generational ministry is a gift we can give college students. Every day of the week, they are segmented into an age category through being on campus. The church can give them other generations to interact with at various times throughout the week.
Also find ways for college students to serve in your church. Yes, they go home on weekends and breaks. But college students desire to serve. Find ways that will give them opportunities to be more than a consumer. Challenge them to be involved in various ministries within your church and give them responsibility. You will be surprised at the incredible resource they can be. Will it be difficult with scheduling? Yes, it will. But the question is, are you really concerned about getting them involved in the overall ministry of your church?
4. Be deliberate in staying connected with your college students that have gone to a college away from your community.
Your church will also have college students who have gone to colleges and universities in a different community. Don’t forget them! Send them a care package with some practical and yummy items packed inside. It means a lot to the college student to have their minister or Sunday school teacher make a visit sometime during the semester and take them out to dinner with other students from your church. Notes never get old. Even a text to check on them goes a long way.
It’s important for you to help those students find ways to connect in their new community. Before that student goes to college, make contact with the local campus minister with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry and with local churches in the area to let them know you have a student that will be coming to their community. Give those people the opportunity to meet your students as soon as they get to campus.
The college years are some of the most formative and important years in a person’s life. Jesus’ heart for college students is for them to come to know Him and know Him deeper. Don’t allow the sobering statistics freeze us from being deliberate about reaching and equipping college students with the gospel.
College students are a significant segment of our population. They are a people group who’s increasingly becoming “unreached.” It’s not acceptable for the church to stand on the sidelines and allow college students to not hear and be exposed to the gospel and participate in the body of Christ.
Let’s get in the game!
Mark Whitt is the Collegiate and Young Adult Specialist at Lifeway Christian Resources. Before joining Lifeway, he spent many years on the campus of Murray State University as a campus minister. Connect with Mark via Twitter.