What College Students Look For in a Church...

By Ron Pickell                                                                                 [MAIN STORY]

or many students, college is the first time they’ll be living away from home. Some take this opportunity to leave their Adventist faith and lifestyle. For those who make the effort to keep a spiritual connection: What are they looking for in a church when they leave home for the first time? Here are some basic things churches should keep in mind:

1. Provide a Christian community that reminds them of the kind of warmth and support they aren’t getting because they’re away from home. They are looking for people who will offer friendship and welcome them into a warm Christian atmosphere by extending personal invitations and encouraging words.

2. Give them a chance to get involved with the church mission and program. They don’t have a lot of extra time, but statistics from surveys of today’s Millennial generation show that students are looking for ways to serve and opportunities to give of themselves. Serving in the local church is one way to help students extend themselves from a campus environment where their focus is often on themselves.

3. Offer them spiritual friendships with fellow young adults who will provide deeper relationships than they are often able to develop in their dorms, in class, and on campus. The local church is often the place where students can make contact with other Adventist students. Many of the larger public campuses have populations of 50,000 to 60,000 students. If fellow Adventist students are enrolled at such a university, it’s possible to attend the same college for four or five years and never meet. Church may be the best place to meet fellow Adventist students who share a similar Christian lifestyle and are struggling with the adjustment to university life.

4. Become spiritual mentors. Students need this in fellow church members, and they need a pastor who will journey along with them in their secular college experience by providing answers for how to negotiate the spiritual and emotional challenges they are facing in the paradigm shift of college life. They’ll be looking for people of grace, life wisdom, spiritual depth, intellectual rigor, and practical experience to help them on their journey.

5. Finally, give students a place where it is safe to be a college student—a place where they can make mistakes and still be understood, accepted, and welcomed by their church family the next Sabbath without ridicule or shame. College is a time for students to try out their faith and make it their own. To do so they’re going to make some decisions that will sometimes be contrary to how they have been raised and taught. But even when they engage in behavior that we might not approve of, they must know that they still belong and that this is their church home. A church of such understanding is not only one they will come back to—it’s also a place where they will feel safe to bring their friends.

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