Heading to college is a big deal for the students, the parents, and the local church. Students are typically excited but also nervous about the transition, living on their own, making new friends, and learning the culture of their campus. Parents are usually nervous about their student’s finances, safety, and decision making. Church leaders are nervous for different reasons.
Church leaders are nervous because they are usually comforting grieving parents and grieving a little themselves. They have also lost a student who was likely a key part of their church community and even served the church in a significant way. Most church staffers I talk to are nervous about the spiritual decisions their students might make. So, what is a church to do? Is this the end? It doesn’t have to be. Instead of grieving the absence of your new college student what if we commissioned them to their campus? The college campus is a place of great opportunity. Many students walk away from their faith during the college years, but for many it is a time of spiritual growth and revival. The key is to stay connected with your students and check in on their faith. Here are three ideas for helping your church stay involved in the discipleship journey of your new college student.
- Connect your student to a new faith community directly. You shouldn’t guess if your student is going to pursue Christian community. You can take steps to help them build a bridge to a new faith community. This is more than just recommending a church in town. One of the best things you can do is connect the student with a church before school starts. When their mom or dad brings the student for a campus visit arrange for them to visit with a local Baptist Collegiate Ministry minister or church pastor so your student can find a familiar face that fall. There are Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) on 30+ college campuses in Arkansas. Students who live at home and attend college nearby may just need the opportunity to connect with more believers their own age for encouragement and discipleship. They can stay a part of your church and connect with other students from other churches as well. For those moving to a new college residentially, BCM can be a starting point and an everyday discipleship community. Our campus ministers work diligently to connect students with local bodies of believers. Additionally, you may know a church you want to connect your student with directly. Call a staff person there. Whether you contact a BCM or local church, make sure you provide a phone number for your student. It is hard to find one student among thousands without some type of contact info.
- Check on your student’s discipleship. It is one thing to give your students directions to church, it is another to check in on their discipleship. Call their college pastor or BCM minister to check in and see how the student is doing. Ask your student if your church can sponsor their fee for a fall retreat or spring break mission trip. One church recently said that they were planning to give $250 to every church or BCM that one of their graduating seniors got involved with in college. This was their missional investment in their student’s continued discipleship. Once per semester could a minister at your church visit 1-3 college campuses where you have students and take them to lunch to check in on their life and faith?
- Plan for homecoming. Celebrate all your students’ accomplishments when they come home for a visit. Could your students share about a mission trip they went on or give a testimony about their time in college? Also have a plan when students come home for long periods. You may be in a rural area with no college students during the year, but during the summer or Christmas break you might have 10-25 students in town. What could you do to encourage or challenge them? Could you have a college or young adult ministry at your church just during these times? Students with similar experiences love to gather. But the key is you must stay connected along the way. College students are unique and need a unique experience separate from junior high or high school students where they can talk about the struggles and celebrations of living out their faith as young adults.
If you would like to contact a local BCM leader to talk about getting your student connected, you can do so here: https://www.absc.org/cyl-bcm-locations.