Over the next few weeks, colleges will be filling back up with students. Particularly for churches geographically close to colleges or universities, this brings a host of unique opportunities–not in a “Millennials are leaving the church oh no what do we do about it” sense, but because all churches are able to be a blessing to college students in some way. How each church does that will vary greatly, and it should–not all churches are the same, so they shouldn’t use the same formula. There are many unique ways churches can use their resources, be they space, finances, time, or something else, to support students.
As cliche as it may be, it’s often true that college students love free food (or at least, this former college student sure did). There are many ways churches can meet this need. Maybe it’s church-wide potlucks that get special promotion to college students so they know they’re welcome whether or not they provide a dish to pass. Maybe it’s a college-specific ministry that has a Pizza and Movie Night once a month. Maybe it’s supper clubs that meet at people’s houses and provide college students with a chance to get off campus and eat a home cooked meal.
In addition to the basic need of food, most students spend at least some of their time studying. One way my church (Encounter Church in Kentwood, MI) has sought to bless college students is to open its doors for Cafe Day. Scheduled around the time of exams, it’s a day for students to use the church as a free study spot. We make lattes in our cafe, volunteers provide soup, sandwiches, and desserts galore, and people spread out all over the building to study or write papers. It’s a simple way for us to offer our building as an alternative to studying on campus or in pricey coffee shops.
For churches that don’t have many college students in attendance or are not geographically near schools, there are still things that can be done. Pairing up students with prayer partners can be meaningful for both parties. Care packages with items as simple as note cards, mints, tissues, etc. can be a source of encouragement. Even if it’s anonymously and from afar, individuals and churches can pray for students, professors, and campus life in general.
Most of these are physical, tangible ways churches can be involved in the life of students. The seemingly small, simple act of getting to know the college students in our churches can be incredibly powerful as well. Whether they’re students who attend only during the school year, only during the summer, or year round, taking the time to learn the names, schools, and majors of the students in our midst is a great first step in making them feel truly welcome–not as some foreign “other” or “student,” but as a crucial part of the life of the church. The busyness and complexities of college may make being truly involved in a church difficult or unappealing for some, but there is still much that can be done to encourage and affirm students just as churches seek to support elderly people or young families.
What ways have you seen churches come alongside college students?
This post originally appeared on the YALT blog.
Thanks for the reminder about college students! Our church participates an English language partner program in which church members are paired with international students to meet regularly for the purpose of practice in speaking English. In the past, as an InterVarsity staff worker, I was always blessed to have my church, with its close proximity to the campus, allow us to use space for various events. It gave many students a very positive view of the church with fond memories of special events there. One year I volunteered for a program where students and church members signed up, agreeing to be paired up for "two meetings and a lunch". It was a great way to connect more deeply with a student who was a part of our church, but whom I had never really talked with before.
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