I first wrote these thoughts way back in 2008, but it’s a topic we don’t think about enough: How to welcome in students before they’re on our campuses.

There are many hundreds of handwritten pages of notes from my yearlong road trip (not to mention the other cross-country trips after that), filled with all sorts of college ministry gems – including plenty of large-scale innovations and simple-but-powerful ideas.

This weekend, I ran across the notes from my interview with Jesse Bradley, then college pastor at North Coast Church outside San Diego. He told me that they annually invited high school seniors to participate – as fully as the youth wanted to – in the college ministry beginning each January. While they noticed it often taking until the fall semester for students truly to “stick,” it still provided the opportunity for a “soft” transition into college ministry.

Not all of us minister in churches, but I bet most of us have access right now to future ministry participants.

Obviously, church-based college ministries do have a natural intake (which makes it all the more surprising how badly that transition often goes). But for those not in churches, what about connecting with local youth groups? Some of those students are going to stay local for college, right? Maybe other churches or youth parachurch ministries in your state can send you contact info, too – but only if you let them know you want to serve their students. You could even take a “recruiting” trip, visiting youth ministries you know will probably send students to your campus.

Targeted Facebook messages can start this semester, as can letters to parents, or getting your freshmen (and others) to contact friends who are still in high school. A great freshman-focused web site for your campus ministry can go a long way, as can a Facebook page and lots of invitations.

Obviously, you’ll probably only reach a percentage of the new freshmen and transfer students coming to your school. But connecting with the “low-hanging fruit” now will only make things go better in the fall… and you’ll have fewer students who still need to achieve buy-in when August rolls around.