It is that time of year when calendars are filled with college graduations. Even if you aren’t personally attending a graduation ceremony, you’ve probably sent a card (hopefully with a little cash) or some other gift to a 2018 graduate.
Often, college graduation can feel like a step out into the unknown or realm of the forgotten. During college, it is easy to find a group to belong to, a peer group to hang out with, or at least a study group that surrounds you with other people in a similar “last-minute-cramming” situation. After graduation, everything changes. It is time to start a career. Life is no longer divided into semesters. Campus life with hundreds or even thousands of other college-aged students no longer exists.
Though there are unique challenges to reaching young adults, this void of community that many young adults feel should be a natural point of connection for churches who are serious about reaching those in their communities. Here are five tips that we should remember to help create community with recent college grads:
1. Notice New and Missing Faces
Do you have designated people in place to notice and intentionally greet new people? Young adults want to know that they have been noticed and known. Make it a rotating assignment. Give it to your most outgoing duo. Whatever you decide, just make sure that there is an intentional plan so that everyone doesn’t treat it like everyone else’s responsibility. A note or message or tweet goes a long way in helping someone feel like you cared that they came. An elaborate welcome gift is even better. The most important thing is that you just do something that says you noticed they were there. Similarly, be sure to reach out and let people know they were missed when they are out for a week. Always seek to have a “we sure did miss you” tone instead of a “where were you” tone.
2. Communicate Well
If you are constantly talking about info being listed on the Facebook group, make sure you’ve offered clear instructions for how to find and add yourself to the group. Better yet, take on that responsibility for the new people. It always feels better to be invited than to have to ask to be included. Ask yourself, “Can new people easily get the info I want them to have?”
You know that your group always sits on the front two pews on the left or that there is always a group that eats at Steak ‘n Shake on Tuesday nights, but new people will not. Be sure that you’re always looking for ways to not just inform new people about your group norms but to make them genuinely feel like they are wanted and would be valued at your activities.
3. Host both Planned and Impromptu Gatherings
College students are used to being immersed in a culture where there are always activities available for them. This doesn’t mean that your church has to have something available every night of the week for recent grads, but you should recognize that young adults are looking for opportunities to gather with others in their church community beyond just the scheduled Bible study times. Make sure that you build other fun gatherings into the life and schedule of your groups to help further facilitate relationship growth. Also, it is helpful to build into the culture of the group an expectation of impromptu gatherings. Find ways to help make it easy for a group member to plan and communicate an opportunity to gather outside of normal meeting times.
4. Integrate Good Discussion Questions
Young adults will feel most connected to community when they have the opportunity to be heard. In your regular group/Bible study setting, make sure that you are including good discussion questions. Lecture-only teaching is not an environment where most recent grads will feel a sense of community. They want to be able to ask questions that they have about a passage of Scripture and hear insights that others in the group might bring to an issue. The Bible must always remain the foundation of truth in our groups but the opportunity to grapple with the different questions that arise from our study of Scripture is a must for young adults.
5. Meet in Homes
Environments matter to young adults, and they love the coziness of a home that just can’t be duplicated in a large room with chairs situated in a circle. Church venues may need to be the norm for regular group meetings but finding times to intentionally meet in a home can be a big factor in helping to grow the sense of community within a group.
A little intentionality can go a long way in helping your church create the kind of atmosphere where recent college grads can find a true sense of community. That might just be the greatest graduation gift you can offer to a young adult during this important life season. It won’t happen by accident. May we be leaders who are intentional about welcoming the recent college grads that come our way.
Bill Noe is the Collegiate Ministry Specialist at Lifeway Christian Resources. A former campus minister (and current collegiate ministry volunteer at his church), Bill loves being a part of seeing college students grow in their walk with the Lord. Connect with Bill on Twitter.