Making your church community easily encounterable is foundational to any campus ministry.
As a new academic year approaches, college towns are flooded with new and returning students. Welcoming students is more than putting a banner out in front of your church or hanging fliers on the university campus (though these things are also important). Here are a few things for your church community to keep in mind as the fall semester kicks into high gear:
Visibility is Important
There will be hurdles to jump before you can be visible on campus. Every school has different operating procedures and rules about how non-affiliated organizations and individuals can interact with campus.
If your church does not already have an established relationship with the school, you will need to do some ground work in advance to learn how you can be evangelists to students on their turf. Start by contacting the office of student activities or campus faith offices. Making your church community easily encounterable is foundational to any campus ministry.
Focus on the First Few Weeks
The first few weeks of the semester are vital. As students negotiate a new class schedule they will also determine how they want to spend their extracurricular time. The role that the academic calendar plays in dictating the lives of students cannot be overemphasized. Inviting and incorporating students in recurring ministry offerings like Bible study, worship, and meals at the beginning of the school year will help to make participation in the life of your community a part of the student’s routine. Connecting with students at this point in the school year will help them to stay engaged in community life and formation through the rest of the academic term.
Someone to Walk Alongside
First year undergraduate students need someone to walk alongside them. The start of college means so many transitions happening all at once – new city, new living space, whole new set of acquaintances, negotiating a different form of education and academic expectations…in addition to the freedom of minimal supervision and added responsibilities. Many freshmen spend their first semester overwhelmed. A non-judgmental mentor with whom to have discerning conversations with can help a student flourish in their new life.
For returning students, summer may not have been a respite. When welcoming students back for the fall semester, it’s important to enter into relationship without the assumption that they are starting the school year refreshed and revitalized. During the break, some students return home to chaotic family life. University life grants young people independence and (often healthy) detachment from toxic family systems. Returning to their childhood home, even for a short time over break, can cause emotional distress. As a pastoral care provider, plan to set aside extra time at the start of the semester to meet with returning students.
Blessings of a Short Academic Life-Cycle
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it all done this semester! If you miss an opportunity this semester it will only be a few weeks before it is time to begin preparing for the next semester. Because college life is distinctly framed in time, community is forced to form and reform repeatedly. Institutional memory is short, which allows for experimentation and change. Use these gifts that the nature of school calendar and university life offers. Branch out and try something new this year.
Samantha Clare is the Lay Chaplain to the University of Arkansas at St. Martin’s Episcopal Center and Young Adult Minister at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She also serves on the board of Forma: The Network for Christian Formation, represents Province 7 on the Episcopal Office of Campus Ministry Council of Advice, and is a student with Bexley Seabury Seminary. Read more from Samantha at samanthaclare.me