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Four Ingredients for College-Age Ministry

25 Nov Spiritual Formation | Comments Off on Four Ingredients for College-Age Ministry
Four Ingredients for College-Age Ministry

For my first three years in full-time ministry, I served 5th-12th grade students. During that time, I experienced firsthand that just a few essential ingredients are needed for a healthy, thriving student ministry.

After those three years, God led my wife and I to another church where we had the incredible privilege of launching a new college-age ministry. I remember my first day very clearly. I sat in my office, with boxes still stacked around the room, and pulled out a blank piece of paper.

College-age ministry was new to me, so I was trusting that God would lead me to do the right things to help students come to know Jesus and grow in Him. For the next few hours, as I filled the paper with ideas, thoughts, prayers, and dreams, I was surprised to see the same student ministry ingredients emerge. So for the next two years, we committed ourselves to these 4 things and watched God do some really amazing things.

Ingredient #1: Integration is the End Goal

ing1Through weekend service participation and serving in the church, college students are integrated into the church family as functioning, valuable members. On Sunday, the win is for every college student to attend a worship service, then serve somewhere in the church during the other service. One of my favorite questions to answer is … “When does the college ministry meet for worship?” People ask this question because the typical approach is to segregate students to their own worship experience on Sunday or midweek. I usually would answer by saying, “We have an awesome service for them that happens every week right here in the auditorium on Sunday mornings.” Tongue in cheek yes, but it helps them understand our overarching strategy of integration.

Remember: Integrate 18-25 year olds now or you will lose them later.

 Ingredient #2: Monthly Large Group Connection (what they WANT)

ing2Realizing that integration is the end goal, we still need meet college-age student’s biggest felt need, which is time and space to be together as a peer group. While an 18-25 year old will connect deeply with the larger church body, they come alive when they are able to identify with people like them in a fun, social setting. A simple way to give them what they want is to create a monthly environment after a weekend service. Consider offering a free lunch and interactive games, which will make it easier to connect with others. This monthly connection will help meet their felt need and more importantly, it will help them take a step towards ingredient number 3.

Remember: If you give them what they want, you will earn their trust to give them what they need.

Ingredient #3: Mentor-Led Small Groups (what they NEED)

ing3What a college-age student really needs is a trusted group of friends, who are going in the same direction, and an adult mentor who will walk along side them during these transitional years. If you think about it, most churches place adult leaders in kid’s lives from preschool until 12th grade. Unfortunately, once they graduate, the investment abruptly stops. The tragedy is that we let them go during the most defining years of their lives. Worse yet, as a church we let them go at the same time their coaches, teachers, and for those who go away to college, their families too. The result, as studies show, is that most of them will leave the church (which is a nice way of saying that we have kicked them out.) So if we are going to commit to uninterrupted investment or investment in their life for the first time, what would that look like? Consider this framework: same gender groups with 5-8 people that are led by a married adult in their home. You could encourage those groups to meet three times per month and do three things when they meet: share a home cooked meal with the mentor’s family, engage in relevant Biblical conversation (topics like dating, money, vocation, and time management), and pray for one another. Remember: by giving a student what they need, they will grow instead of us letting them go.

Ingredient #4: Spiritual Formation Retreats

ing4The world of a typical 18-25 year old is both busy and noisy. Between class, work, friends, and smart phones, there isn’t much time to be still. Because of this reality, it is essential that we create extended space for them to unplug. As you consider the rhythm of your local context, choose two or three weekends during the year to get away. During these times, choose one spiritual discipline to teach and practice together, like journaling or Sabbath. The benefits will go far beyond the weekend because you will have given them tools to use in their daily lives.

Remember: Spiritual formation retreats create sacred space to really be with God and each other.

Whether your church has 5, 10, 50, or more college-aged students, you can, must, and get to walk along side them and integrate them into your life and your church. In 2010, my wife and I led two of the first groups for 18-25 year olds at that church – girls on Tuesdays, guys on Wednesdays.   We cooked a lot of meals, did A LOT of dishes, and had more late night conversations and laughs in our living room than we could count. And just as Ephesians 3:20 says, God did immeasurably more than anything we could have ever asked for – both in their lives and ours.




Josh Rhodes
NextGen Pastor at LCBC Church
Josh is the Next Steps Director at LCBC Church, York Campus. Prior to LCBC, he served at Chestnut Ridge Church in Morgantown, WV. Josh received a Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies and Youth Ministries from Lancaster Bible College, and a Master of Arts in Theology from Biblical Seminary. He and his wife Hillary live in Lancaster with their three children - Sephora, Levi, and Pierce.