As I write, I am on the University of Illinois campus visiting my daughter. During my time together, we discussed how to get students more involved in church. Studies show that many young people ditch church after leaving home for college much to the head shaking disappointment of home church leaders. Many have blamed our youth groups, youth ministers and families for not equipping our youth with a tinsel faith that will withstand the distractions of college life. Our assumption is that our sons and daughters will make it a high priority to quickly find a nearby church – just like the one their family attends back home and that they will be a faithful, active participant in spite of their busy college life. And we are perplexed and disappointed when they don’t.
In my estimation, my daughter is as strong in her faith as a young person can be. She spent four years in a vibrant campus ministry in her undergrad years, then served nine months on the mission field. When she returned to the States, she enrolled at UIUC to pursue graduate studies.
She struggled to find a church.
She floated for a while, finally finding one within a ten minute walk from her house not of our heritage in spite of the fact that there are two mega-churches in town.
Why not? Was she being rebellious? Had we not trained her well enough? Was her youth group lacking? In fact, I admit, I even said to her, “Why can’t you just attend XYZ Church?”
She summed up the problem in one exasperated word – transportation.
That might surprise you. It did me. And you are probably thinking the same things I thought – why couldn’t she find a ride? (She didn’t know anyone) What about the city bus? (The bus service is terrible on Sundays.) Why couldn’t she just call the church?
<Eye roll.” “Mo-om.”
I think we’ve all been guilty of making the assumption that college students will just show up and immediately feel at home. Most college students do not have a car. My daughter says many people think that as a graduate student, she will have a car, but she doesn’t and neither do many of the international students she is trying to reach with the Gospel message. She only knows one person who attends the meg-church and not very well. An introvert, she feels hesitant to ask for a ride, much less to be so forward as to say, “I have several International friends who want to come with me.”
Ask yourself: would you approach a stranger about a ride? How comfortable would you feel calling a strange church to ask for transportation – especially if you are on the shy side? What if you wanted to invite friends to come with you to church? What if you want to attend more events then just Sunday morning – every time, you have to ask for a ride.
Once the college student overcomes the hurtles of getting to a church, there’s more hurtles to overcome The church isn’t like home, they don’t know anyone, they don’t know the layout, the protocol, where they fit in
Both my daughters have told me horror stories of their first time at a church. One church who had all kinds of classes for niche groups, told my older daughter there was no Sunday School class that would fit her status as a single medical student. She literally went to her car and cried. My younger daughter took a bus to a church, got lost, tried to walk to find it, arrived thirty minutes late, only to find out services were being held at a local park that day.
Both my girls told me the big thing holding them to the churches they finally chose was that someone greeted them at the door and offered to sit with them.
This blog is about extending grace to others. We expect college students to take the initiative to find a way to come to church when in fact, their needs make church attendance more difficult. If we are about grace, how can we extend grace to the college student?
So, here’s my idea prompt for you. You attend a church near a university. You want college students to attend your church. You are aware they have hurtles in getting to church. What are some creative ways you can help them get to church events? How will you find students and get the word out to them about your services? Once they enter your doors, how do you intend to involve them so they will want to become part of your community?
What has your church done? What are other churches doing? How has a local church helped you connect to their community of believers?
My daughter made this interesting observation: “We need adults to help us through the transition, to smooth the path, to show us that it [church] is possible.”
Let’s help each other make it possible for college students to connect with the local church! Share your ideas through a comment or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.