I’ve heard it said that two of the greatest points of growth in a person’s life occur in the first year of life (from birth to one-year-old) and the first year of college. While I have not researched to fact check this, personal experience has given validity to such a statement. College is a pivotal point in the lives of young adults as they navigate the first taste of independence and ownership of their faith journey. With nearly 20 million college students across our nation, the harvest is plentiful. Perhaps these quick tips can help you better engage, invite, identify, and invest in the college students in your hometown, church, or local college campus.
If you are looking to reach college students, you need to be planned and prepared to engage them within the first two weeks of the academic semester. Campus-based and church-based college ministers spend their entire summer in preparation for the first few weeks of the semester. In these weeks, students are testing out their schedules, finding their way to class, and looking for a place to belong. Claim your spot on a student’s calendar before it becomes too full to say no. However, if you miss this window of opportunity, it does not mean all is lost, keep reaching out and engaging students. Embrace the fluidity of college life, recognize that no two days look the same, and seek to continually meet new students throughout the year.
One of the most important tools in engaging college students is the personal invite. Whether you’re inviting a student to church, a cookout, a small group Bible study, or any other fun event, take the initiative to personally invite them. In today’s world, we turn to social media to market and promote ministry happenings. The reach of social media is far and wide, which makes it important and relevant, but the depth of a personal invite is immeasurable. Find a college student and let them know how much you want them to join you at church or how honored you would be to get to know them over a cup of coffee or a meal. Often, the initial invitation to participate in something is the small spark that ignites a great mentor or discipleship type relationship that spans for years to come.
Identifying needs is an easy way to engage college students. Look for the gaps and seek to meet the needs of students. Free laundry facilities, a home-cooked meal, or a ride to the grocery store can turn into a relationship-building opportunity and gospel conversation. Often first-year students are not permitted to have cars on campus; this provides an opportunity to offer a ride to the grocery store, church, or a fun outing. International students typically cannot return to their home country for breaks and holidays, leaving them looking for a host family to celebrate the holidays. Look and listen for the gaps in a student’s life and seek practical ways to fill them.
The single most beneficial thing you can do to minister to a college student is to invest. Invest your time, talents, and resources to help them grow in relationship with Jesus Christ. If you have a personal relationship with the Savior, you have something to offer as a mentor and disciple. Open your Bible and share what it is you are learning. Pray, memorize Scripture, and live life alongside a college student. Jesus walked daily alongside His disciples. He ate meals with them. He taught crowds of people as the disciples watched and learned for themselves.
Engage, invite, identify, and invest—I pray these four words will equip and encourage you to seek out a college student in your church, hometown, or at the college campus nearby. Make a plan to engage with a college student within the first few weeks of his or her academic semester. Invite him or her to coffee, lunch, or church. Listen and identify the practical needs he or she may have and seek to fill them. Invest by inviting him or her into your everyday life and leading him or her in prayer and study of God’s Word.
Tiffany Hudson is the Baptist Campus Minister at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Tiffany and her husband, Joel, have four daughters ranging in age from elementary to high school. They enjoy partnering together in ministry and life as a blended family. Collegiate ministry is her heart and calling. She loves the thrill of August on a college campus and being able to journey with students in some of the best years of life. In her free time, Tiffany has developed a love for home DIY projects and flipping furniture.