summer students and the awkward dovetail

How do you deal with “home-grown” students during the summer, as they come home from their various colleges? It can be so awkward, as I know from experience, to try to dovetail that bunch of students with the ones who have made your church their home since coming to college.

(By “home-grown” students, I mean ones who were in the youth group before going to college.)

I got this email this morning, and since this topic may be on the minds of a lot of churches right now, I figured I would post it (and my response). Hopefully some of this thinkin’ helps, plus I’d love to hear additional thoughts in the Comments!

the email (a little edited)

Benson, Howdy,

I am the parent of a proud fighting Texas Aggie. We attend a large church and we have noticed that the kids who were such a key part of our great youth program seem to have no place to fit in when they are home for the summer. My Wife and I are considering creating some kind of summer college fellowship for Sunday nights. Our goal is to  keep them connected to each other, Keep them experiencing Christian fellowship, and to let them know that the church is still here for  them. I wonder if you have any ideas or have seen anything we can model from?

Best of luck in your research project, and Gig ‘Em.

my thoughts (also a little edited)

Howdy!

Thanks a bunch for writing. That’s really, really great that y’all are working on that.

For the purposes you listed (fellowship, letting them know you guys are there for them), something like a Sunday night activity sounds like a great idea. This can be once a week, but it also doesn’t have to be. It can be once a month, etc.

One thing to watch out for, though, would be any college-age students who have started attending your church recently feeling left out. (Combining “home-grown” with new students is a tough part of college ministry.) So if you do something regularly, I would make sure to just bill it as a “college” thing, and be sure to advertise it within the whole College Ministry community like that. If at all possible, you don’t want to do a separate “off-shoot” college ministry but to work hand-in-hand with the one that exists.

At the same time, certain events may still turn out to be mostly home-grown students, and that’s okay.

You could certainly also do a one-time “reunion” or something for all the home-grown students who have come back for the summer. This can serve a lot of great purposes. It can do the things you mentioned, but also provide an easier route to plug in to the full College Ministry, give them info about how they can plug in to the church in the summer, etc. Based on the web page, it does look like there are various opportunities over the summer, but helping them plug in there can make all the difference.

Whether you do a one-time thing just for them or an every week thing, they will respond best if they see familiar faces:

  • yours and any other parents who want to help
  • the youth pastor / workers (assuming they’re the same one they had in HS)
  • especially what I call “bridge students” – students who are home-grown but have stayed local and are plugged in to the present college ministry.

Also, of course, you would want to introduce students to “new faces” – the college minister, other college students who have “invaded” their church while they have been gone, etc.

(For a while as I was looking at the church web page, I didn’t realize that you have a college ministry – it’s under “Youth Ministry” on the page. One quick way to make college students feel more important is to move College Ministry to its own tab – and few college students want to feel like they’re in a Youth Ministry. That’s probably not something you can change, but I figured I’d throw it out there!)

As for good models of this, I don’t know of any specifically. I’m sure there are some churches who do this really well, but since we’re just entering summer, I haven’t seen them yet. But I do know this is one of the many really tricky parts of Collegiate Ministry.

One thing some churches do, though, is to “move up” high school graduates as early in the summer as possible. I think this can be very, very helpful. You want the new college freshmen to experience College Ministry as much as possible in the summer, so they know they have something to come back to
next time. Even if they’re still going to attend Mission Trip or anything else as “youth,” I very much prefer having them move up in May or June if possible. Yes, it can be messy, with them sometimes feeling like freshmen and sometimes feeling like HS Seniors. But it’s probably far better in the long run – and it’s more important to have a successful transition to the future than a “perfect,” tidy cap on their past.

Lastly, two of your best allies for this summer connection can be:

  1. “Bridge Students” working purposely. Again, these are the kiddos who grew up in the youth group, stayed local, and are plugged in to the college ministry during the school year. One or two bridge students who are leaders can help everybody else plug in – if they’re doing it on purpose.
  2. Ministry to home-grown “away students” during the school year. Anything that happens in the summer will be helped by actions during the school year. Care packages, relational contact (even just the occasional Facebook message), and then a blitz of information about a month before the summer starts… these can all help pave the way. I know this doesn’t help now, but it’s good to think about it now while the issue is right in front of everybody!

Summer ministry to home-grown students is something that has to grow over time. It can help to think of it as a long-range process, and start planning for it like that. This summer, maybe you get a dozen involved. Next summer, it may be three dozen. As 12th graders see this taking place and get used to the idea, more and more will plug in, too. Hopefully your youth workers can talk it up all during kids’ Senior Year.

BUT you know your situation more than I do. This is a very broad, general overview, and the specifics are important – like how big the college ministry is normally, who oversees the usual college ministry, how big the “home-grown” student group might be (it seems like y’all might have a big youth ministry), whether or not the regular college ministry is a place students want to plug in, etc.

Thanks!

Ben

Written from Wheaton, Illinois

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