One of my favorite questions to ask current college students or recently graduated college students is this: what was the best piece of advice you were given before going to college? Here’s a response I received a few weeks ago at a picnic. Between bites of nachos, the student said: “My youth pastor told me to be intentional about finding Christian community. He was so emphatic about it that I remember frantically walking around campus asking everyone I met if they knew about any Christian groups on campus. One of the first people I talked to was a Christian and she’s one of my best friends today. Together we were able to find a group and get connected to a church.” This story reminds us of two things we all need to know about students transitioning to college.
First, the first two weeks of college are critical. Nationally, 25 percent of students do not return to the same school for their sophomore year. On a recent trip to a large Midwestern State University, I learned that this university has been able to reduce that number to 3-4 percent. They’ve found that students transition better and remain at their university longer if the students find good, supportive community quickly. The university leadership recognized that there were only two prominent scenarios for incoming students. Some students would look to the party scene to find friends. While this did provide community, it wasn’t the most beneficial. Other students would fall through the cracks, not really getting involved on campus during the week and going home on the weekends. The university responded by pouring more funding and energy into first-year programs. Helping students find a place to belong has made all the difference in the world in their retention rates.
Second, the opening story reminds us that Christians need to intentionally seek out Christian community on campus. Kara Powell of the Fuller Youth Institute estimates that 40 percent of Christian students do not get connected to Christian community while in college. During the first few weeks of college, students are bombarded with different activities to fill their schedules. Everything is new: people, buildings, class, meal times. Many students are navigating these daily activities on their own for the first time. It’s easy to drop worship and “Bible study” from an already hectic schedule.
What can be done to help students make wise decisions in how they spend their time and who they spend it with? Are there steps that can be taken by youth workers and parents to assist in this transition? What follows are five suggestions to help students connect to Christian community on campus…
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