10 ways to serve your church students
By David Fincher
Students who leave home for college enter a new world of opportunity and influence. Maintaining a connection with a church can be difficult. Even if you have taught students the principles of biblical apologetics, healthy relationships, Christian ethics, and basic theology, being a college student is tough. Consider some of the following strategies to help your church go the extra mile with your students, whether they attend a Christian or secular college.
1. Refer them to a local church. Find a ministry leader in the area to explain the landscape to young Christian adults. Facilitate a personal meeting between the student and a local minister that may lead to an intentional transfer for ministerial purposes. This “student member” experience provides a higher level of encouragement and support than the remote shepherd can provide.
2. Connect them electronically. A youth minister who creates a group text or social media page for their graduating class helps maintain a common spiritual identity after high school. It also allows them to support each other by sharing joys and needs with the group. This mutual ministry can continue for years.
3. Pray for them weekly. Raise student names via a church prayer list, weekly prayer, ministry staff meeting (or all three). Let students know that the church prays for their spiritual development of gifts to serve others. Also invite them to share their struggles and challenges. Pray that they can resist the temptations that come with being away from home for the first time.
4. Send them cards. Everyone loves to receive mail, and students especially appreciate notes from home. A message of encouragement accompanied by a small gift card will brighten up a student’s day. Doing this a few times a semester will cost the church little, but it will pay great dividends to the student who will see how much the church cares about them. The student will also learn the value of encouraging others during this season of life.
5. Visit them from time to time. A minister or elder who goes out of his way to visit a student on campus will leave a lasting impression. Visiting a student even once lets them know that they are not forgotten and that you will help them if needed. Your caring conversation over a cup of coffee will mean more than they can say.
6. Offer them hospitality. When a student returns home, a church leader may offer to buy them breakfast or lunch. Invite them into your home and listen as they describe their local church, spiritual activities, service projects, etc. Discussing how God is working in their lives will strengthen or clarify the decisions they make.
7. Sponsor their mission trip. If a student is considering going on a mission trip with their Christian college or campus ministry, become a generous sponsor. These life-changing experiences often set the tone for their future service. It will also teach them to be generous with others in a similar situation.
8. Invite them to report to the church. If you discover that the student has experienced interesting spiritual activity in college, give him the opportunity to speak to the congregation. Interview them for a sermon, invite them to submit a short video, or ask them to lead a special session on the topic. The congregation will be interested in what one of their own is doing for the kingdom, and the student will feel especially valued by sharing their experience.
9. Hire them for the summer. If a student is coming home for the summer, find a way to get him to work at church. Possibilities include performing physical tasks around the building and grounds, helping to organize camps and events with young people, or developing the technological capabilities of the church. The paycheck will help the student pay for their college education, and experience will show how their donations can help the church.
10. Give them a scholarship. Many churches offer a scholarship—perhaps $1,000—for a student’s first year at a Christian college. Consider extending it for additional years. The scholarship may depend on one or more factors (a student may report on churches they have visited in college, share on how to better prepare students for youth ministry for college, be a partner prayer with a member of the high school youth group, etc). Ongoing relationships with the house church can benefit both the student and the house church.
A student who leaves for college too often leaves the church for good, but students who receive special attention from their home church will find that they are precious to the body of Christ. If your church does not have its own students, contact the nearest Christian college or campus ministry to adopt one or two for a season. When your church cares for students, students will better understand their importance to the future of the church.
Dr. David Fincher is president of Central Christian College of the Bible in Moberly, Mo., and the Christian Church Leadership Foundation in Cincinnati, Ohio.