In my blog post  “Top Ten Ways to Spiritually Prepare Your College Freshman for Campus,” I promised individual posts on each way with resources and action steps to help you accomplish spiritual preparation. Here’s number one.

I remember it like it was yesterday–the first Sunday I woke up in my college dorm room. For the first time ever, I alone could decide whether or not I would go to church. Granted, it was over three decades ago, I lived in the Bible Belt, and going to church was still the “normal” thing to do. But I did go. And I continued to go throughout my college years. Campus ministry, Bible study, and a weekly prayer partner were part of my spiritual syllabus. God used my college years to make my faith my own. If I were going to be a coed on campus this fall, I wonder how I would fare.

Fast forward to 2016 when Christians are considered “irrelevant and extreme” according to Kinnaman and Lyons’ latest research-based book Good Faith. The odds of our Christian kids graduating with their faith intact are about the same as them wearing our 1980s Members’ Only jackets. So what’s a parent to do? Help them plug in. Note the findings from the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) report: It seems we tend to overestimate how ready our youth group grads are for the faith struggles they will face in college:

“One pervasive struggle for college students is finding a new church, as evident by the 40 percent of freshman who report difficulty doing so. Young people retrospectively report that the first two weeks of their college freshman year set the trajectory for their remaining years in school. Parents and leaders should talk earlier and more frequently about college, including helping entering freshman develop a plan for the first two weeks complete with church attendance, as well as an investigation of ministries and churches nearby that offer a transitional lifeline.”

Let someone else make the introductions. 

  • Use the services of a ministry called the College Church Connection. This team provides a detailed report for your child based on a survey he/she fills out. The results will recommend Christian contacts, college-town churches, and campus ministries based on the college he/she will be attend. Not only is this helpful, it’s successful. CCC reports that eighty percent of the students who receive a report find a church and a ministry they love during their first semester of college. The cost is minimal and a huge investment in your student’s spiritual health. This would make a great graduation gift for all church youth groups to give their seniors.

Introduce yourself.

  • Take a trip to campus, too. When you are checking out dorms and college life, also check out the spiritual climate on campus. Visit the various campus ministry offices, the school’s religious life office, and near-by churches. Fortunately, you can research a lot of this information before your trip. If you attend a campus orientation day, make sure you visit with the representative at the tables for campus ministries and churches. Some campuses even have student housing for Christians. For example, Christian Campus Fellowship has houses on several campuses.

Get to know the differences.

  • There are non-denominational and denominational campus ministries. Get to know the DNA of each group through websites, talking with college students from your church about ministries they are involved with. If you have enough lead time during your student’s senior year of high school, subscribe to campus ministry newsletters, and “like” or “follow” the ministries’ social media pages to get a feel for their teaching and activities.
  • Keep in mind that your student may want a full-orbed type of ministry (worship, fellowship, Bible Study, prayer, recreation) as well as a more topic-specific ministry. For instance, Ratio Christi is strategically intent on training students in gaining confidence and the ability to share in conversational evangelism by studying apologetics—the scientific, philosophical, and historical reasons for adhering to a Christian worldview.  When kids doubt their faith or need more confidence to face pressure from professors and peers, Ratio Christi is a spiritual life saver.

Be well-rounded to be well-grounded. 

  • Keep in mind a campus ministry and a college-town church are not substitutes for one another. They play different roles in your student’s life. Being involved in both is important for maintaining a well-rounded faith experience. Being part of a local church connects a student to the larger body of Christ, the church corporate, and allows him/her to be accountable, be fed, and be a contributor. It also helps prepare for transition back into a local church, not only when home on break, but when graduated. There’s something to be said about the “muscle memory” of returning to church.
  • Additionally, research has shown the advantage and importance of maintaining intergenerational relationships prior to and while in college. It bolsters our students’ faith and makes it more “sticky” down the road. Interestingly, in Cultural Captives, Stephen Cable reports that college graduates with a biblical worldview are more likely to point to a source other than a family member as the most influential source in their faith. He thinks this is likely because when faith is challenged in college, those who don’t fall away look for answers from pastors, the Bible, and books. This emphasizes the need for our students to have a faith community at college consisting of campus ministry and a college-town church to be there for them when they are looking for answers.

If we parents, and we the church, will be more intentional in connecting our college students to a campus ministry and college-town church upon arrival, hopefully they will never pull the plug on their faith.

My next post will explore tools for answering doubts and building confidence in your student’s faith.

To read more by Julie Loos, visit her Ratio Christi Booster’s blog.

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