Helping College Students Find a Church Home | Walking Worthy: Helping College Students Find a Church Home

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Helping College Students Find a Church Home

Each week, as I left a new church I called my dad. He would ask me questions: what did the pastor preach, was it solid, how was the music, was there a place for me to get connected, etc. Each week he held me accountable which forced me to rise out of bed and keep trying until I found a church home. Eventually I found a place I called home for four years. My dad's accountability was key to getting me there.

My husband is the college minister at our church. We don’t live in a college town. Our college students are a mix of those going to community college, working, or are trying to figure out what is next. We have two main groups of students: students who are here and students who are away. Our away students go off to college and only participate in our ministry during breaks. At the beginning of each summer our church promotes high school graduates into our college ministry. We spend the summer loving on this new group of students, knowing some of them will leave at the end of the summer. We want the students who leave to plug into a church while they are at school.

You have heard the stats about college students leaving the church.  Barna tells us that 50% of Millennials who grew up in church have dropped out. Aware of the disappointing stats my husband began questioning how our ministry could actively help our away students. How do we help them and encourage them to find a new church home?

My husband devised a plan to help connect our students to a home church while they are away at school. He created a Find a Church Workshop and Lunch.

The Purpose:
To help new and existing college students plug into a church where they go to school and gain confidence and knowledge of how to find a church to visit. Ultimately we wanted them to walk away with three churches to visit the next three Sundays. 

The Process:

  • We began by gathering vital information on our students: college name, and contact information. We gathered information for several weeks and my husband announced the event and asked them to sign up for the lunch/workshop.
  • We hosted the workshop after church on Sunday (a day and time they would already be at the church).
  • Someone checked students in (to validate the schools represented and verify attendance) and gave them a packet of cards (see below).
  • We ordered lunch (a real lunch, not pizza).
  • After lunch we broke up into schools. Each school had a leader who helped students personally search out churches on laptops. The school leader taught students how to look at church websites for important doctrinal information, basic schedule and opportunities, and church staff. After looking at several churches, the student chose three churches to visit. They wrote down their choices on their cards. As students left, they gave one copy to my husband (the far left) and took the other copy with them (the middle and far right).
  • As follow up my husband contacted each church on each student’s list. We hope this effort will pave the way for our students to get plugged in quickly.

What We learned:

  • In general students are afraid to visit a church by themselves. (Haven’t we all felt that fear?)
  • Students don't know how to pick a church to visit. They have never had to choose a church or visit a church. There are so many options it is overwhelming, so why even try?
  • Students may not have anyone else in their life encouraging them to go to church or holding them accountable.
  • It’s our role as their home church to help them see the vital importance of plugging into a church while at college. If we love them, we will help them get plugged in and hold them accountable.
  • When someone else was excited about a potential church, the student got excited too! They began to really own the process at this point.

Improving it Next Time:

This was our first year to hold this workshop, so we learned several lessons:
  • Recruit more school leaders who actually went to that school. That was our desire this year, but it didn’t quite work that way.
  • Provide a time of training for school leaders. We want to intentionally train the school leaders on searching churches, what to look for, etc. Our leaders each had personal conversations with my husband about what he wanted them to do, but we believe a training time would be helpful to get everyone on the same page.
  • Give away free stuff. We would love to bless our students with some school supplies: notepads, pens, folders, etc.
  • Pour into the group who is staying. We encouraged our students who were staying to come and fellowship together.  Next year we would like to talk about how they can get plugged into our ministry and our church as a whole. We want them to see how they can be an active part of the body of our church, not just someone who shows up each week. 
How are you helping college students get plugged into a church?
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