The youth who go off to college, can sometimes be “out of sight, out of mind.” The church wants to show love to the students that are far away, it just sometimes needs some help knowing how to do that. For that reason, we are asking ….
“What are ways your church supports the kids who are in college out of town, but grew up in the church?”
Josh Beeler is the Associate Pastor for Youth and College at Central Baptist Church of Fountain City in Knoxville, TN. He is a graduate of Old Dominion University and of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Josh is married to his wonderful wife, Sherry, who he enjoys sharing conversation, adventures, and life with. He is ridiculously playful and works daily to maintain his mischievousness. Josh enjoys playing, singing, reading, questioning and laughing with friends.
You have them for six or seven years, then you send them out into the world: hopefully carrying enough theological knowledge and personal spiritual understanding to face whatever new ideas and challenges await them at that unspeakable environment of tempters and heathenry—COLLEGE. Or from another perspective, you put up with them for a few years, and then you finally get to cut them loose. But neither of these are the only (and certainly not the best) perspectives. In fact, one of the greatest things you can do for your students is to continue to support them and walk through the journey of college with them however you can. Here are a couple of ways that we continue to stay in touch with our students who are away:
College Care Packages
Once a semester (at the beginning of the Fall Semester, and just before exams in the Spring) we send a care package or gift to our college students. In the fall, we send packages that have tons of snacks and basic necessities—toothbrush, toothpaste, laundry and dish detergent, etc.—to help them settle in. In the spring, we send Starbucks gift cards right before finals to help them make it through the cram sessions. And the best part is, this ministry doesn’t end up costing us a thing, and allows tons of people in the church to get involved. Church members are given the opportunity to make donations for the gifts, which covers gift and mailing costs, and after packages are mailed, church members are given lists of student names to pray for the students. My favorite part is that I get the opportunity to write a letter to our students and let them know about all of the people who are praying for them and thinking about them while they are away. If you don’t believe how significant it can be to know that you have a community behind you, just wait until you see all the pictures your college students post after receiving their boxes!
Learn your students’ college calendars! You need to know when you will have them home so that you can schedule a few “reunion” events throughout the year. These can include some bigger events (we have a college retreat scheduled for May right after school lets out, have a Christmas party each year, and get some of our college students to chaperone summer camp), but can also just include some smaller things to let them see their friends and leaders again. Schedule a lunch/dinner gathering over a holiday weekend, plan a couple of fun summer gatherings, and have one or two youth gatherings where college students are invited back for a unique lesson—they might even be willing to share with current youth group members!
You have ridiculous resources at your fingertips to stay in touch with your students. Text/message them every once in a while to see what they are working through or struggling with. Send them funny videos or meaningful ones through Twitter or Facebook. When it’s needed, give them a call to let them know that you are thinking about them or praying for them. Let them know that you are always able to point them to resources for spiritual development—I can’t tell you how many students I still hear from in this regard, even after college! Finally, this might seem unnecessary, but college students REALLY appreciate mail. Think about it—it’s always enjoyable to receive a card or note in the mail! I try to send personalized letters occasionally, along with forms/fliers for upcoming events that they might be able to be a part of, or to simply keep them informed about what’s happening at home at their home church.
bio.Ginny Richardson serves as the Pastor for Youth and Children at Vienna Baptist Church in Vienna, Virginia (about 20 miles outside DC). She is a Richmond, Virginia native and a graduate of Christopher Newport University and McAfee School of Theology. Ginny enjoys learning with the students she ministers and seeing them embrace their gifts and passions to serve God and love others. Her hobbies include exploring new places and museums, hanging out with friends and family, watching college sports, and spending time outdoors.bio.
What is the best way college students’ home church could minister to them while they are away at college? Don’t forget them. Love on them while they continue to try to figure out who they are. Still consider them part of your family, though they won’t be at every family gathering for the next few years. They still see you as their family and need you.
How does a church provide this ministry to her college students out of town? A few ideas…
- Notes or care packages – It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Just a friendly hello and reminder that you are praying for them, that they are not alone on their journey. It can be from anyone, allowing more people to get involved – a current youth, a member of the senior adults group, their fourth grade Sunday School teachers, or one of the kindergarteners who sends a drawing with the reminder to the students to eat their vegetables (I still have that card). You can even involve a group in the actual making of care packages.
Try to organize groups so something is sent to the students every four to six weeks if you can, so they can hear from different people or groups in the congregation. While you may think this is a short period of time in between mailings, remember to the college student who is away from the church, this may be the only personal communication they have from the church.
- Church newsletters – Though they may not always read the weekly e-mail newsletter the church sends them, they appreciate getting it so that they’re kept up-to-date on things that are happening (even if they won’t say it).
- Provide ways for students to still connect and their voices to be heard – Maybe you invite a few college students to write devotions for the Advent devotional or write something for the church newsletter. Ask a few students to help lead the retreat. Send absentee ballots to students who are members if the church is voting on something in the coming weeks. If they have a club soccer game at a place near the church, get a group together and go support them. You not only support one of your members, but enjoy a time of fellowship with one another.
- A seasonal Sunday School or Bible study class and activities – If you don’t have a regular class for these students, you can welcome them back by offering a seasonal group for them, mainly during winter and summer breaks. Host activities such as seeing Christmas lights or having a game night together. Get lunch together after Sunday worship. Find ways to reunite as a community.
- Provide connections and networking opportunities – Your students are moving to a new place and looking at career options, and you have people in your congregation with lots of experience and lots of connections. Help them out. Let students know of someone who used to be a member of the church who now lives near their college. Put them in touch with someone who is working or has worked in the fields they are interested in pursuing, so they can get to know them and know more about the field. Who you know is vital in this period of life. Even if they don’t take the opportunity to reach out to these people, it’s comforting to them to know someone is there if they need it.
Again, what is the best way you can minister to them? Be an active presence on their journeys. Be their church.