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College Students Are Back in Town—Is Your Church Ready?

Back to school is here. Parents and students are gearing up for a new year: buying supplies, arranging carpools, and stocking the pantry with lunchbox-worthy snacks. The start of school sends many households into preparation mode. Churches, it’s time to do the same.

Perhaps you already have plans in place to support families in the back-to-school shuffle. But if your church is near a college or university, you also have an opportunity to support incoming students.

6 Ways Churches Can Serve College Students

New and returning 18-to-22-year-olds are gearing up for a new semester, and with it comes plenty of chances for your church to welcome, include, and disciple these students. Here are six ways to bless students coming to the campus near you.

1. Invite them.

Reach out to your local campus ministry and find out when new students are moving in and when the semester begins. The start of the fall semester is a great time to actively seek out and invite students to church in one way or another.

Consider mobilizing a team from your church to hand out water bottles on move-in day along with information about service times and location. Or ask campus ministries to share an invitation to your church with new students via social media. You could even create welcome posters with a QR code that links to your church website and hang them in the student center and campus coffee shop.

2. Make space for them.

When college students return, it could mean the sanctuary is a little more crowded or the parking lot fills up faster. Perhaps your church needs to set up more chairs and order more bagels.

It’s good to anticipate how to prepare the physical space in your church, but take it a step further and make room in your hearts for these young adults too. They might take “your” pew or “your” parking space, but inconveniencing yourself for the good of someone else is at the heart of biblical hospitality. It’s precisely the way Jesus made space for us—at great cost to himself. When we physically and emotionally welcome students on Sunday morning, we have an opportunity to show them the gospel.

It’s good to prepare the physical space, but take it a step further and make room in your hearts for these young adults too.

3. Engage with them.

Students appreciate it when older adults intentionally make an effort to get to know them. This can be tricky (and even a little intimidating) if students swoop in and out of church en masse. But even a small gesture can do a lot to make students feel welcome. There may be students coming to your church alone who would especially benefit from making a connection.

Do your best to remember names and ask thoughtful questions as you get to know students. Move past the basics of hometown and what major they’ve chosen. Ask about their families, their experiences so far, what they’re looking forward to in college, and how they’re adjusting to life in the dorms. It might feel awkward at first, but sincere attempts to know students as individuals are a beautiful way to demonstrate the love of Jesus.

4. Feed them.

Sadly, food insecurity during the college years isn’t uncommon. Some studies estimate at least 30 percent of college students don’t have access to adequate food due to the rising costs of tuition and housing. You don’t have to come up with a solution to this complex problem, but inviting students to stay for a meal is a huge way to make them feel loved. You’ll meet a tangible and physical need, and fellowship around the table is an age-old practice of welcome and care.

There are several ways churches can facilitate this. Cater a lunch for college students one Sunday and invite church leadership to stay and eat with them. Organize a team of people willing to host students for lunch in their homes. Personally invite students to stay for the church potluck, make sure there’s extra food, and then offer the leftovers to the students to take back with them. Where there’s food, there’s a great opportunity to invest in college students.

5. Serve with them.

Even college students who are committed to the local church can find it difficult to get plugged in and connected in a new place. Often, the quickest way for anyone to feel a sense of belonging is to get involved in serving the body. This is especially true for students. They might have limited free time or more complicated schedules, but there are always ways for them to serve.

Often, the quickest way for anyone to feel a sense of belonging is to get involved in serving the body.

Make sure students know who to contact if they want to get involved. Who do they talk to if they want to usher? Who do they talk to if they want to serve in the nursery or sing in the choir? Eliminate communication barriers that make it difficult for students to jump in and serve.

Better yet, personally invite students to serve alongside you. If you’re on duty for clean up, invite a student to put away chairs and wipe off tables with you. If you’re going to a prayer meeting, tell a student and see if she wants to meet you there. Personal invitations go a long way in making others feel welcome.

6. Pray for them.

Prayer is one of the most important ways you can care for the college students who step into your church. Pray for students from the pulpit. Have small groups or Sunday school classes “adopt” students and pray for them consistently. Pray for students you serve with, have in your home, or meet on Sunday morning. Pray for the universities and colleges in your city and the ministries that serve on their campus. Prayer is essential as we minister to college students—for their benefit and ours.

College students are coming back, and, Lord willing, they’ll be walking through your church doors soon. Let’s embrace the opportunity to welcome and love them well.

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