Connecting with College Students

3 college students sitting on stairs

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This is a guest blog written by Emily Tillman who gave this as a talk at YMI2014, the youth ministry conference at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Until May 2014, she was the administrative assistant in the youth ministry office, but she is now an Alabama Baptist State Missionary serving as the Associate Campus Minister on the campus of the University of South Alabama in Mobile.  She specialized in collegiate ministry while at NOBTS.

This blog is for youth ministers so you may be asking, “What does college ministry have to do with being a youth minister?”  Well, it is inevitable that you will touch the lives of college students. Some of you have dual role positions and your responsibilities include collegiate students.  All of you minister to high school students, the majority of whom will one day become college students. So as the start of school rolls around, begin thinking about how to connect with college students, whether they are close or far away. In a booklet called Context, LifeWay lays out 4 things that matter most when ministering to college students: Community, Depth, Responsibility, and Connection. The common denominator of each of these four areas is relationships. This is an age where coming to a cool event won’t cut it, you must invest time to get to know them.

(Context is available to download for free at


Develop a place for college students to feel community with other college students because they are in a life stage all their own. For some settings this may be more difficult that others. Remember, college students are not held to the same type time constraints as youth. This does not have to be in a Sunday School class. It is ok to think outside the box. Maybe you need to join up with some other churches. You could find some volunteers from within your church to open their home for coffee and board games once a month. Don’t underestimate the power of the local bowling alley or skating rink. If most of your students go away to college, help them to find community where they are. Connect them with the BCM and encourage them to join churches in their area, but try to be strategic to get them all together when they come back for holidays.


College students have started to experience the freedom to make choices and opinions away from their parents about everything from what to where to who to vote for, and that should be extended within the church. They have begun to see people, their friends, leave the church in large numbers. They have probably seen some ministers and churches struggle to recover from moral failure. Their educational avenues are deeper. International students of all kinds of religions live across the hall from them in the dorm. Create a place for them to ask questions. Have a list of helpful books for topics that come up often. Start a facebook page and post thought provoking articles for them to think through. Have a “topic of the month” that you discuss with no “lesson” or agenda at your gatherings. Most importantly, do not be afraid to admit when you do not know the answer. They are old enough to sense when you are faking it, so just fess up that you need to read a little more.


College students have a growing sense of responsibility. They are seeing their lives as their own for the first time. Maybe they are considering marriage and seeing the responsibility they will have along with another person. They are beginning to pay their own bills and make student loan decisions. They have an ever-expanding world view. Let the church be a place where they can explore their newfound sense of responsibility. Use them for DNOW leaders, camp chaperones, mission trip leaders, nursery workers, ushers, and even committee members.


College students are beginning to desire inner-generational relationships. They want to see how adults make faith and real life work together. They are starting to wonder what happens in business meetings. Their friends who are a few years older are being elected deacons. They want to feel a sense of connection to the entire church. Help foster relationships between college students and other adults in the church. Give them responsibility and train them in leadership by allowing them to connect with others in ministry in the local church.

Here are a few ideas to get you started as you brainstorm ways to help you connect with college students. Have events for only seniors where you begin to foster the environment that values community, depth, responsibility and connection. Provide accountability for students as they leave high school and go to college. Send them letters or care packages in the mail to let them know you care about them. Ask them what churches they have been visiting and how they are getting involved. Put a list of college students, their college, major, and year classification in the bulletin at the start of every school year and ask people to commit to praying for one student all year.

Helpful Resources For You: 

  • Allen Jackson- Unframed
  • Chuck Bomar- College Ministry from Scratch
  • College Transition Initiative
  • Arliss Dickerson- Doing College Ministry Better and
  • Steve Shadrach- The Fuel and the Flame

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