Going to college brings significant change to a young person’s life. Students often leave the communities where they have grown up, breaking the bonds with their local church. Finding a new church home that is a good fit can be difficult. It is often easier simply to drop out of church.
Local churches can help young people maintain their connection to God and a faith community. Home church members can encourage them to maintain and grow in their relationship with God, as well as succeed in college.
Before students leave
1. Pray early and often.
Ask Sunday school classes to pray for the students. If your church has a prayer chain, ask the coordinator to have the members pray for one student each week. Send the student a note telling him or her of your prayers and support.
2. Create a contact directory.
List the names and addresses of the students in the church newsletter. Invite church members to send them a positive note, email or text message. Take note cards addressed to each student to different Sunday school classes and ask class members to write a short greeting.
3. Create a Facebook group for students.
Create a Facebook group for college students from the church. Use it to offer online Bible study, post videos of church activities and share videos filled with words of encouragement from the congregation.
4. Help students find faith communities in and around their campus.
New students are often overwhelmed as they begin college. Using Find-A-Church, research options to find churches fitting both their transportation options and their preferred worship styles. Learn if United Methodist collegiate ministry is available on the campuses where your college students will attend. A little homework on your part makes it easier for students to try a new church or college ministry.
5. Look for United Methodist college ministries at their school.
Where United Methodist-related collegiate ministries exist, be certain to share the names and contact information for your students with the campus minister or chaplain.
6. Make a prayer shawl or blanket in school colors.
Ask senior members or others who like to knit or crochet to make a prayer shawl or blanket for each student in their school colors. Have people in the congregation pray over the blankets and present them to the students on the Sunday before they leave for college.
7. Have a “Blessing of the College Students.”
Take a moment during the worship service to pray over the college students right before they leave for college.
While they are at college ...
8. Send an “encouragement jar.”
Ask Sunday school classes or other small groups to write short encouragement notes for each student and then put them into containers. Give each student a container as part of a college starter kit or mail it to them as part of a care package. Urge the students to read a note whenever they become discouraged or need a pick-me-up as a reminder that their church family is rooting for them. Get everyone involved. The best notes often come from the younger children.
9. Keep the students in front of the congregation.
Create a bulletin board with the names and pictures of students attending college. Post a map to show the locations of their schools. If a student has a prayer request, post that on the bulletin board.
10. Card shower.
Toward the middle of the semester, ask people in the congregation to bombard each student’s inbox, phone, Facebook and physical mailbox with short notes of encouragement.
11. Send an “exams survival kit.”
Every student loves a care package, especially at finals. Include snacks to fuel up during exams and messages of love and encouragement.
When they come home ...
12. Plan a “welcome home” service and lunch.
Plan a “welcome home” service for students at the end of the semester and/or school year. Involve students in planning and carrying out the service. Hold a churchwide lunch featuring their favorite foods.
13. Start a college group.
During the summer, offer a special study and fellowship group for college students who are home. Remember, even those who are only a year out of high school are no longer are part of the youth group. Ask the students what format, day and place would be appropriate for such a group. If they wish to meet over a meal, ask other church members to take turns helping provide the food - or invite the group to use the church kitchen to prepare their own snacks or meal.
Staying connected with college students and offering the encouragement they need can make a world of difference as they face the challenges of college.