One of the key transitional periods in the life of all of our congregations is when our youth leave home to pursue their dreams through higher education. What plan does your church have in place to extend care and support to your college students? Without a systematic plan in place, college students oftentimes get forgotten.
For young people who attend our very fine ELCA colleges, there is already a good on-campus care system in place. With campus pastors and caring professors, advisors, and dorm personnel, these youth have many opportunities for personal attention and spiritual guidance.
There are also numerous other campuses that the ELCA supports with various styles of campus ministry offering worship opportunities, small group support as well as personal pastoral care. For those colleges without ELCA ministry presence, there are Neumann Centers and other denominational as well as parachurch Christian organizations like Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. No matter what, these college students are still an extension of our local congregations. It is important for us to show these students that they are not forgotten but shown our care and loving support.
Some of the youth simply do not adjust well and experience times of loneliness and a feeling of being lost in this new freedom.
The transition to the new independence of college has a different effect on each of our youth. Some of these young people are more mature and independent and find this to be a relatively easy and exciting time in their life. They seek out the support they need and plug into the new Christian community on campus. These students are the exception and not the general rule.
Some of the youth simply do not adjust well and experience times of loneliness and a feeling of being lost in this new freedom. Others struggle for the first half of the year until they discover the support and care that they both need and desire. No matter what, the care of the home church is always appreciated.
This transitional period is not only felt by the college students, it is also a time of change in the life of the family whose child has left home for the first time. Here are some of the ideas gleaned from families with students in college as well as from college students who have experienced an ongoing relationship with their home church:
From naming their child publicly in the prayers of the congregation, to knowing that their child is receiving the bulletin, devotional and letters from others in the church demonstrates a real caring commitment from their church. Its value is immeasurable. Such care solidifies their relationship to the church as they face the big change of becoming “empty nesters.”
The women’s circles send “care packages” to each of their college students on a specific holiday like Valentine’s Day, on their birthday or during mid-term or final exams.
The congregation’s youth group continues to see the college youth as a care-giving ministry for them. A card is signed and sent as they begin college in the fall and an ongoing delivery of personal notes from the local youth reminds them that they are in their thoughts and prayers.
Ask for the student’s permission to publish e-mail addresses in the bulletin to share thoughts, humor and prayers.
One of the small groups in the congregation adopts the college students as their personal mission and sends them periodic letters or e-mails to keep the youth informed that this time of their life is important. A pre-Thanksgiving and Christmas card is sent expressing their hope that they will see them in church when they come home for their break. Or an Advent ring, candles and devotional booklet are sent to remind them of their faith.
In the prayers of the worshiping congregation, the first Sunday of each month includes prayers that keep the names of the students and the college they are attending in the intercessions of the church. High School students will take note of that and know that someday they too will be remembered.
The weekly or monthly bulletin is sent to college youth to keep them informed of what is happening at their home church. Also, the quarterly devotional books are also mailed out to them to encourage a continued devotional life.
College can be a wonderful stepping stone to adulthood! It is both a time of intellectual, social and personal growth. The encouragement to continue and grow in one’s faith relationship with Jesus Christ and his body church is vital. Our congregations’ plan to extend care to these future leaders of our Church can make a real difference in helping each youth know that their faith is important to their church.