If college students are coming home to your church for the summer, consider these ways your church can make a difference in their lives.
By Lizzy Haseltine
It was the summer of 2014. I had just completed my freshman year at college and returned home for three months.
I was looking for Christian community but not expecting to find it. Only home for a short period of time, I wondered if it was possible to get plugged into a church.
When my childhood best friend invited me to her church’s growing college ministry, I was hesitant. I wasn’t sure if I would be accepted or welcomed.
Still, I decided to take a chance and tag along. And I’m glad I did. That summer changed my perspective of what college ministry could—and should—look like.
According to a Lifeway Research study, most teens (66%) stop going to church when they become young adults. But this summer is an opportunity for you to help them want to be a part of the church.
If college students are coming home to your church for the summer, many of them are either looking for connection or struggling in their faith as they navigate adulthood. Consider the following five ways your church can make a difference in their lives.
1. Welcome them into the church with no expectations
As previously mentioned, some college students are unsure about stepping foot into a church for just the summer. It can be intimidating to meet new faces or try to reconnect with people they haven’t seen in months or years.
Introduce yourself to these students and invite them to coffee for you to hear about their school year and point them to the church’s college ministry. Make sure there’s up-to-date information about the college ministry on the church bulletin, social media, and website. In addition, encourage college students who stayed local during the school year to invite their friends who have returned home for the summer to church.
2. Build a college ministry with trusted and available leaders
The church’s college ministry needs leaders who offer biblical counsel and are willing to invite these students into their lives. Leaders, steadfast in God’s Word and living out their faith daily while also being relatable, are impactful.“The church’s college ministry needs leaders who offer biblical counsel and are willing to invite these students into their lives.” — @LizzyHaseltine Click To Tweet
I still view my college ministry leaders from my first summer in college—Drew and Jenny—as mentors and know I could reach out to them for guidance or prayer even nine years later.
3. Have an active summer Bible study for college students
Although many Bible studies “take a break” in the summertime, this is the time to engage college students who may only be in town for a short season. Don’t miss the opportunity to reach young adults who are in their formative years.
Give them a weekly invitation to open their Bibles and discuss topics like relationships and how to experience God. These meetings can take place in a leader’s home, a coffee shop, or a local park.
While there should be a designated time for the Bible study, expect college students to show up early, grab dinner together, or have a late-night ice cream run afterward. Recognize community is vital for them and help them get to know each other during the study through icebreakers, collecting prayer requests, and engaging them with thought-filled questions.
4. Don’t assume college students can’t—or don’t want to—contribute
While college students may be financially strapped and not able to add much to the offering plate, they often have much more availability than other church members. Allow them to give the gift of their time for activities like helping with food pantries or children’s summer camps.“While college students may be financially strapped and not able to add much to the offering plate, they often have much more availability than other church members.” — @LizzyHaseltine Click To Tweet
Shoot a message to the college ministry’s group chat or stop by their Bible study to ask for their help on an upcoming community service project. Invite them to not just enjoy the church, but encourage them to take part as the hands and feet in the body of Christ.
5. Help college students make memories with church as a loving and fun environment
Many adults look back on their college days and recall the “fun times.” Wouldn’t it be exciting to see the church become part of this equation? This doesn’t mean the church should step outside of its beliefs, but rather, engage students in fun, memorable ways that point them to a heavenly Father who loves them and will always be with them.
For me in the summer of 2014, this looked like playing field games in the park and even having a square dance with a caller one evening. These activities helped me have lasting relationships with those I participated with in one-hour weekly Bible studies.
Following that summer, I came home for Christmas break. Once again, I hopped right back into the church’s college ministry and even won a Christmas costume contest. When I think back to those days, I smile. And now, when I visit my parents in that town, I attend that church.“While it may seem inconvenient to pour your resources into temporary churchgoers, you can help change the lives of the next generation.” — @LizzyHaseltine Click To Tweet
I may have aged out of college ministry, but that summer showed me the importance of community in the church. Being part of a college ministry not only kept me in God’s Word but helped me build relationships I have to this day.
As Paul reminded Timothy, “Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12, CSB).
While it may seem inconvenient to pour your resources into temporary churchgoers, you can help change the lives of the next generation. How will you choose to engage college students this summer?
For permission to republish this article, contact Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Lizzy is a content writer for non-profit ministries. For the past five years, she has traveled the world to tell stories of how God is moving.