College ministry can be one of the most discouraging yet rewarding ministries in the local church. Churches and pastors across the country continue to scratch their heads in search of what might be the latest strategy or best practice for engaging college students in their local church. It might be tempting to lean on appealing events, houseboat trips, or free meal Sundays. However, if you don’t give college students a vision for how they fit into your local church today or 4 years from now, you might not see them next month, let alone next week. Here are a few simple ways church leaders can build an effective college ministry in their local church.
1. You need to know what you are trying to give away.
Make sure there is clarity from your church staff as to what it is you are trying to pass on to college students and how the team is deputized to accomplish it. Is it a faithful and regular quiet time in the Word? Do you memorize Scripture? Do you have a disciplined prayer life? Do you pursue reconciliation through conflict? Are you honest? Is it Bible knowledge and theology? Is Christ truly Lord of your life? Can you articulate the gospel clearly? Do you get around unbelievers? Do you share the Gospel? Are you making disciples who make disciples?
As we consider what a mature disciple of Jesus looks like, we must determine what we have to pass on to others; then, we can clearly communicate a vision for how a college student could grow in our local church. Be honest about what your team of college leaders will be passing on to college students who show up to your church. Then, figure out how to communicate it clearly and consistently because vision leaks.
2. As you meet and build relationships with these college students, make absolutely no assumptions about where they might be spiritually.
Use “family, occupation, upbringing, and religion” as a guide for questions in getting to know students. Go so far as to clearly review the Gospel with them, even if you have known their family in church your entire life. Walk through the difference between admitting their sin, believing Christ died and resurrected, and truly committing their life to Christ by repenting and stepping into obedience. Ask where they are in that journey and allow them to tell you where they think they might be. As we know, even demons believe Jesus is who He says He is, so we are searching for signs and fruit of obedience. If we’ve learned anything in Christian subculture, it must be that anyone can talk the talk.
3. Keep showing up.
No matter how defeating or discouraging it can be over time, just be faithful. College ministry is one of the most transient ministry spaces in the local church. You cannot attach yourself too closely to students or groups of students, but you have to be committed to the vision over a long time period. The students who are faithful, available, and teachable will stick around, and you will begin to experience the reward of seeing them pass on what you gave to them.
There are no better years for growth and formation than the 4-6 years after high school. It is arguably the best, and often most frustrating, season to invest in someone’s life. In a recent study by the Barna Group called “Barna CoLab: Discipling Gen Z,” we learn that whether students are new believers or have grown up in the church their whole life, most are spiritually open, yet they are biblically illiterate, turned off by spiritual correctness, and most interested in how Jesus and the Gospel has actually transformed your life. Whether it’s teaching college students how to read the Bible, how to get around unbelievers and share the gospel, how to be teachable, how to pray and fast, or how to follow, be clear about what it is you plan to give them and then be faithful.