Though churches often prepare programs for high schoolers during the summer months, many do not take the time to plan for returning college students. It's not rocket science. The key is meeting students where they are in their life and helping them connect their life with their faith in God.
Here are some low-prep ideas for connecting with college students this summer.
1. Be Authentic. Young adults have what amounts to "authenticity radar" that makes them sensitive to organizations that are just trying to boost numbers or put a younger face on their programs. Leave all those motivations at the door in favor of genuine hospitality and relationships.
If you want your church to offer the fullness of God's grace to college students in genuine, appropriate ways, you'll need to spend time learning about the millennial generation. With a good grasp on where they are coming from, you can prep your greeters to treat them warmly but not go overboard.
2. Harness their heart for mission. College students are passionate about seeing real change in their world. Helping them channel that passion for justice and a better world through their faith is exactly what they need to see the church as living and active in the world. It can be as simple as asking your college students to help plan and lead a summer mission emphasis day or taking them through a study that helps them identify their passion and channel it into action.
The General Board of Global Ministries and the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry have produced such a study and made it available free on the Global Missions website. Called "Next: Making Earth Look More Like Heaven," it mixes stories of young adult missionaries with Bible study to help students launch their own responses to the problems that trouble them most.
3. Help them discern vocation. In a recent study on why millennials stay in church, The Barna Group discovered that helping students view their passions and gifts as part of God's calling was key to keeping the next generation actively involved. College students often seek direction in regard to their career, and you can help them. A great place to start is to offer a study that helps them learn the tools of vocational discernment. Parker Palmer has an incredible, short book titled Let Your Life Speak that is perfect for beginning a group discernment.
4. Coordinate mentors. Often, college towns lack equal numbers of young adults and older mentors; yet, college students need that wisdom and perspective to navigate the choppy waters of their late teens and early 20s. On the other side, the more we age, the more we sense the need to pass on the wisdom we've learned.
If you have determined mentoring is a feasible ministry, ask your older members to lead it. They would be in charge of finding mentors and connecting them with students. A week or two after finals, the leader calls each college student to ask if they can give the students contact information to an older adult mentor to coordinate a time for them to meet for coffee. Take it to the next level and give mentors questions to ask to get the conversation going and the relationship growing. Mentors might even take college students out to eat. Nothing shows you care better than feeding a hungry college student and giving him or her undivided attention for an hour or so.
5. Bring in a well-known author or speaker. College students love to spread innovative ideas. Consider hosting events, similar to TED conferences, that help students bridge science, business, technology and global issues with their faith. Call your district office and see if you can pool resources and people with other congregations and offer a series of seminars. Hire an engaging author, philosopher or teacher to come and inspire both college students and students of life. Consider Skyping your keynote speaker in to save money.
Whatever idea you choose, the important thing is to meet students where they are and help them stay plugged into their faith while they are in college and at home for the summer.