After I graduated high school and went to college, I didn’t stop going to my home church. Since I lived in the same town as I had before, I didn’t feel the need to leave. Rather, I avoided my campus ministry at first because I thought that there was no point in going to a new ministry when I already had one. I eventually found my way to the campus ministry in town; my brother, on the other hand, traveled two and a half hours south to go to school in St. Louis, and found a church home far away. Since he now had a new congregation for the next four years, there wasn’t really a reason for his first church home to keep in contact with him, right?
The first month into our freshman year, my siblings and I received a care package from our home church, which included snacks and a notebook to help us study. I think they even included an inspirational note and let us know that the high school group had prayed for us that week. I was so touched that they had thought of me and prayed for all of us during this transition (even though I was still in town). My brother was also extremely grateful for the thought, and of course the extra food, that he had received.
It is it important for a congregation to be present for their college students that have left. A church home is in fact a large family that is there for each other in the different times of our lives; for them to simply abandon us in the first shift away from our families seems like a sincere lack of understanding and thought. While we won’t go to church there every week for the next four years—and maybe for the rest of our lives—it’s important to stay in touch and help the student as best they can.
Even before the student leaves for college, have each of them give the information of what school they will attend, and what campus church they will go to. This gives everyone an opportunity to know where they are headed in their faith life. Once they leave, there are many ways for a congregation to be involved with their college students—here are 6 suggestions to get started!
- Provide a prayer mentor. Assign a member in the congregation to each student who is away at college to pray for them during their college years. Lots of churches do this for confirmation, so why not do it again? A prayer mentor can also be another person who is in regular contact with the student. This will help the student feel loved and wanted when they have multiple people from church asking about them and being genuinely interested in their campus activities.
- Pray for the student individually throughout the year as a congregation. Send them a note of encouragement and a postcard to let them know that you are still praying and supporting them in their future endeavors.
- Send a care package. It’s always nice to receive something in the mail, especially something from your family and friends. This lets the student know that you are thinking about their well-being.
- Stay in touch via social media. It’s easy to lose touch with people when they move away. Keeping contact through social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter is an easy way to see what the student is doing and support them in their achievements.
- Make an effort. When they come home to visit their parents on breaks or weekends, talk to them about their life, school, and their hopes and dreams for the future. Help them realize that you are there to support them!
- Visit. Whenever possible, if you’re traveling through the city or town where the student now goes to school, try and see if you can visit them. Take them out for lunch or dinner and talk with them about their life.
Keeping in touch with the student is support that is crucially needed. Many college students who grow up in a supportive, Christian home leave for school and come back doubting their once rock-solid faith. Helping them realize that you support them in their faith and their life outside the church gives them a network of a family that they desperately need and come to when they see the problems of the world. Don’t just do this their freshman year—continue to do it throughout their college experience and let them know that you and your congregation love and support them in this wonderful time of their life.