College is a time of change, learning, growth, and constant movement. In many cases, students experience freedom and independence in ways they never had before. It’s a time spent on the go and is arguably the most formative period of a person’s life. Unfortunately, this is when many students disconnect from the church.
There are many reasons this happens. But oftentimes it’s because college students don’t see the importance of connecting to the body of Christ. And no one is intentionally providing them opportunities to do so. As church leaders, it’s vital for us to pour into these students and give them ways to serve the church and stay connected.
College students are often a forgotten age demographic. And this is why many pull away from or leave the church altogether. While college ministry is challenging, ministry leaders are responsible for leading well and showing the importance of the local church. If we are intentional with our students, I believe we’ll find they have meaningful contributions to make in our congregations.
College ministries are a great place for students to be in community and do life together with like-minded believers. However, college-specific ministries shouldn’t be the only opportunity these students have to be involved in the church. Here is some encouragement for remembering how college students fit into the local church and some ideas for helping students go from simply attending church to being the church.
Importance of being connected to the body
There are certain “one another” commands in Scripture we cannot possibly be obedient to if we’re not in biblical community. The local church is a place where we worship with the saints, sit under the teaching of God’s Word, and partake in the sacraments such as baptism and communion. To neglect these things is to neglect God’s commands.
In addition, we need others to sharpen us, pray for us, and hold us accountable. Putting ourselves in isolation is a recipe for spiritual failure. Lastly, every believer is a member of the body of Christ and has gifts to use to build up the body. College students are not exempt from these commands but instead, can provide great benefit to your church when they understand the role they have.
Inviting them to use their gifts
Many college students have giftings they can use to serve the church in a variety of ways. Allowing students to use their gifts to do what they’re passionate about will help them get excited about investing in the church body.
These students may have unique gifts such as music, technology, graphic design, social media, photography, leadership skills, and so on. Identify these various gifts and passions within your students and challenge them to use them to serve the church body.
Connecting college students to older disciples
One of the best ways to keep our college students engaged in the church and in their personal walk with Christ is to connect them with mature believers. This can be done through one-on-one mentorship or in the context of a small, discipleship group of three to four people.
Allowing a more mature believer to pour into a student and hold them accountable shows students what it looks like to truly follow Christ, helps them grow in their faith, and gives them someone to go to when they have needs or questions. Students who have someone pouring into them are less likely to disconnect from the church.
Connecting college students to local families
If your church is in a college town, you likely have college students attending your church who are not from the area and don’t have family close by. This is a great opportunity for families in your church to “adopt” a local college student. This simply gives them a local family away from home. These families can love on the students by praying for them, having them over for dinner, including them in family outings, being involved in their school activities, and being a strong presence in their lives. These relationships can have a lasting impact and allow students to see what a Christ-centered marriage and home look like.
Pouring into the younger generation
But discipleship should not be one-sided. One of the best ways to have your college students invest in the church is to invite them to serve in kids or student ministry. Think about the impact these students can have on the lives of those younger than them. Kids in your church will look up to these older students. And seeing young adults who are serious about their faith can go a long way in their own spiritual growth.
These relationships and discipleship opportunities can impact the young lives in your church for generations to come. This is what discipleship should look like: investing in less mature believers and having more mature believers believer pour into you.
Live on mission
College students and young adults are typically less tied down than older adults who have spouses and kids. Less responsibility means more opportunities for evangelism and missions. If there is a college campus near your church, challenge your students to spend a day sharing the gospel with students, engaging international students, or starting a Bible study on their campus.
College breaks during winter, spring, and summer are also great opportunities for students to go on mission trips. As leaders, we need to make sure we’re providing these opportunities and making them aware of the options they have to serve both near and far. Students can go on a gap year mission trip, spend a summer overseas, or take a job near a church plant after college. These are all great opportunities for college students to use their availability to advance God’s kingdom.
College students belong in the local church
College is a challenging time for both students and ministry leaders who are trying to disciple these students. People will challenge their views, culture will attempt to indoctrinate them, friends will leave the church, and they may not see for themselves the importance of connecting to the church. The responsibility is great and the need to provide students with opportunities to be involved in the church is significant.
College students have the capability to build up the local church by using the gifts they have, allowing others to pour into them, pouring into others, and living on mission. As challenging as college ministry can be, let us press forward, being faithful with the responsibilities we’ve been given and helping these students stay connected to the body of Christ.
This article originally appeared at LifewayResearch.com and is used with permission.