College Ministry 101

I’ve been reading up on ministry to college students (College Ministry from Scratch: Equipping Kids for Life after Youth Group, by Chuck Bomar) and want to share a little about what I have learned:

Although college-age people might enjoy having a ministry specifically designed for them, there is a much greater desire to be a part of our churches as a whole.

A ministry to college-age people needs to focus on being a bridge for helping people find relational connection to the life of our churches. The role of college ministry is to move people from relational connections in student life to having relational connections in the adult life of our churches.

We all know that the time in a person’s life between graduating from high school and becoming an independent adult is filled with all sorts of transitions. People move out of their parents’ home and then back again. They go to school, change majors, drop out, transfer schools, graduate, or don’t graduate. They take a job, get promoted, change jobs, get fired, and move to other areas. They date someone with hopes for marriage, break up, begin new relationships, struggle with others, develop friendships, and hurt some people in the process.

My question is, “Who walks with these young adults through all of the changes, challenges, and confusion?” I think it’s the role of the church. And, more specifically, it’s the role of the college-ministry leader to make sure these people are being brought along in the context of relationships and in everyday life. This task requires more than a weekly gathering.

I’ve observed that the college-age people who have someone speaking into their lives in the midst of these changes and transitions are the ones who stay connected to the church. And when they stay connected during the college-age years, the generational gap is naturally closed through relationships.

College ministries tend to focus on getting people to show up versus helping individuals move toward the adult life in our churches.

As leaders of a college ministry, we play a small part in a lifelong process of discipleship. I’ve personally observed five overarching pursuits of college-age people that need to be guided: Identity, Intimacy, Meaning, Pleasure, and Truth.

The most effective way of making sure we’re addressing these age-stage issues, as well as forming deeper connections to the church as a whole, is by helping form natural, mentor-like relationships between college-age students and older, spiritually mature adults. These become people who, through a relationship, use their own God-given experiences to help a college-age person navigate the maturity process.

Here are five simple markers that I believe show a certain quality in relationships between older believers and college-age people:

  1. The frequency and consistency with which the pair meets together one-on-one. If they’re meeting frequently on their own, without any prodding from others, then it shows that each of them sees the value in the relationship. If there isn’t consistency, then it’s paramount that we figure out why. It might be a matter of schedules, or it might be that the two people just don’t click for some reason. Either way, this is when we can step in and help cultivate that relationship.
  2. The college-age person seeks spiritual wisdom from the older adult on her own. If this is the case, it says the younger person sees value in this relationship. It also likely suggests that the older believer feels confident in his or her spiritual direction. If this isn’t happening, then we may need to equip the older believer or perhaps help the younger one to see the value of someone older investing in her spiritual life.
  3. The college-age person knows where the dishes are in the older believer’s kitchen. This shows a particular level of intimacy in the relationship, which takes time to develop, of course.
  4. The college-age person can drop by the home of an older believer uninvited. This again shows an intimacy and comfort level in the relationship that indicates quality.
  5. The college-age person’s pursuit of an older believer’s counsel in everyday life circumstances. College-age people are thinking through all sorts of things. If they’re seeking the advice of the older believer in their life’s direction, educational pursuits, job concerns, or any other daily issues—again, this shows us something about this relationship.

Most college ministry job descriptions include references to weekly gatherings, campus ministry, and discipleship but lack specifics that get to the heart of what’s truly needed in college ministry.

A Job Description Summary:

  1. Learn and understand age-stage issues.
  2. Personally disciple college-age people.
  3. Help cultivate a heart in older believers for younger people.
  4. Create bridges for the building of inter-generational relationships.
  5. Provide direction for mentorships.
  6. Create a gathering point.
  7. Develop self-feeders.
  8. Develop a relationship with campus leaders.

Our biblical command isn’t to run a program; it’s to disciple people. Although a program might be a piece of that, it’s important to make the distinction.

The more you personally help college-age people through their life issues, the more you’ll be able to help other leaders do the same. Your experience is going to be critical for the long-term effectiveness of ministry to college-age people in your church.

So when Jesus told his closest men to go and make disciples, they certainly would not have walked away thinking they needed to have a weekly meeting and go through a book together! Discipleship is a part of the job description, but it is through sharing life, not weekly meetings.

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