It’s Sunday morning. Families are finding seats, people are grabbing one last cup of coffee before the service and, chances are, college students seeking a church are walking through your doors. How does your church meaningfully engage these students? We spoke with Mark Wallace, campus ministry leader for Resonate Global Mission, about the best ways for congregations to receive college students. Here are his top five suggestions:
1. Get to know them.
This may seem fairly straightforward, but it's a step that churches often overlook or forget: talk to students. Ask them how things are going, what they’re studying, why they picked that program, what they’re learning in classes, what they’re learning about themselves—ask them anything to get know who they are as people. Build relationships with them over coffee, whether that's a coffee shop or in the church lobby. You’ll find that these relationships open up conversations where you can ask the students themselves how they want to be engaged in your church.
2. Go to them.
College students are active within their community. Volunteer with them. Attend their activities. Church members should join in with what students are already doing—going to them and not just inviting students in. Are your church members willing to be invited to student houses? Where can you accept their invitations? Are there spaces where you can invite yourself? Moving towards students is one way to show an interest in their lives and will build a stronger bridge between these new members of your church community.
3. Get to know the local campus.
Understanding the place and context where these students are learning will better help you understand them and why they might be at your church. Here are a few key questions to answer:
- What is the style of the campus? Do the majority of students commute or do they live on campus?
- What already exists on campus? Can we connect with anything?
- Can we introduce ourselves to a campus minister or chaplain?
- What Christian faculty and staff could we connect with?
4. Involve them in your congregation.
When you take a step back and look at your church mission, make sure to include spaces where these students fit in. By getting to know students more, you start to learn their gifts and talents—look for where those overlap with your church's needs. Don't overlook students when seeking committee members, council members, and volunteers for your ministries. Some of them may be around as long—or longer—than older adults in your congregation. Be willing to ask and give students significant leadership opportunities based on their gifts and experience.
5. Be flexible.
Most importantly, live with a spirit of flexibility. The reality is that students have a hard time committing to weekly programing because their lives are full of varying schedules. This is an opportunity for your church to learn new ways to do things: opening yourselves up, finding a new way to be a less building-centric church. Students want to meet people in all generations and are likely spending most of their week with people in their own age group. Create spaces that are different than what a student is experiencing on campus.
College can feel like a very turbulent time of life, and finding a church home during this time can be challenging. Students crave a place where Sunday mornings can be restful and life-giving. Congregations everywhere have the opportunity to be just that for students.