This past July a group of university chaplains and youth pastors gathered via video conference to brainstorm robust ways to strengthen connections between congregational youth ministries and campus ministry. The conversation was structured around an important guiding question: How do we maintain a connection that allows for exploration and that communicates trust?
Helping students transition into faith-formative campus experiences and communities is not meant to be prescriptive. It’s also not meant to stifle their opportunities to experience worshiping and gathered communities that are different from their sending churches.
Rather, studies like Renegotiating Faith are encouraging congregations and mentors to be more intentional about connecting students to new networks at a time when they’re open to those connection points. Here are five launch themes that came out of our conversation.
- Take the long view in launch preparation. Give students a picture of campus life well before they participate in it. Invite campus chaplains to preach regularly in your church. Encourage the chaplain to bring along a university student or two and host a lunch for students in grades 11 and 12 where they can ask questions about university life and faith in a nonthreatening context. Perhaps host a separate time or event for parents to bring their questions and/or anxieties about campus life. Take time with high school seniors to work through a curriculum like Sticky Faith: Teen Curriculum by Kara E. Powell and Brad M. Griffin. This resource facilitates conversations around finding a worshiping community, engaging in interfaith dialogue, and navigating new-found freedoms. Better yet, have young adults who have recently graduated be the conversation leaders.
- Find ways to support Christian ministry at your local campus. While your local campus may not have a CRC campus chaplain, part of taking the long view is also being aware of what organizations are available to your students and helping those students discern which ministries and organizations will most effectively encourage their faith formation. Supporting a local campus ministry is another way to help younger students imagine engaging in faith-formative activities when they enter campus later on their own. Try to find ways to support local campus ministry without duplicating it. Perhaps your congregation can supply a meal or refreshments once a month to a campus ministry partner. Engagement like this will also enable congregations to tackle number 3 on this list.
- Present a smorgasbord of options that help students engage with and explore their faith identity while on campus. Make sure to include broader campus faith engagement by highlighting parachurch campus groups as well as local congregations where students tend to find a home. This gives students multiple entry points and demonstrates empathy for the season of exploration that is part of university life. It also communicates trust that they will use the discernment tools they gained in youth group and in their families of origin to choose a good fit for them. Showing them options also communicates an awareness that many students are seeking space to be outside of their old peer group.
- Be aware of where students will be studying. I mentioned First Barrie CRC in Part 1 of this blog. This congregation not only knows where they are sending students, but when possible they reach out to churches near the colleges and universities where their students are attending to let them know their students may be visiting soon and to be on the lookout for them. In the same email, First Barrie also reminds the receiving congregation that they are close to Georgian College and would be glad to be available to any students being sent in that direction.
- Create a robust feedback communication loop with former youth group students. Connect with students who have already launched, not only to find out how and where they are engaging in some type of faith formative community, but to also invite them back to speak to upcoming students about what the transition has been like for them. If they aren’t able to speak in person, use Zoom or Skype for a mid-semester check-in mutual mentoring call.
This is not an exhaustive list. What would you add? Let us know what your congregation is doing to help launch college students well! Contact Lesli at [email protected].