Transitioning Well: Helping Your Students Thrive on the College Campus 

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We all know the statistics. We have all seen the numbers. As student pastors, you are reminded every week. It’s no surprise that there are many students who graduate from high school and then graduate from church attendance.

I remember my student pastor warning us my senior year about this problem. I sort of brushed it off.

However, it became real to me when I started college. The first few weeks on campus, I noticed many of my new friends did not attend church. I found out that many of them grew up in church, but now that they were in a new town they had no desire to go. I even noticed that many of my peers who were a part of my youth ministry back home had not found a church to attend near their campus. My student pastor’s warnings became reality. It was no longer statistics and numbers on a page, it was my friends and classmates.

Currently, I am a junior at MUW in Columbus, Mississippi. When I moved to Columbus from Haleyville, I knew I wanted to be an active member of a church. After visiting a few, I found one I liked. I also became active in the Baptist Campus Ministry at my school.

I would like to share truths that helped me transition well. These strategies could help the high schoolers in your ministry thrive spiritually in college.

First, establish a firm foundation. Many of the people I was around on campus called themselves Christians, but many could not even verbalize the Gospel.

However, I noticed that the students involved at my church and campus ministry could. I believe it’s important for youth ministers to help teenagers establish a foundation they build the rest of their lives upon. Teach students the storyline of Scripture. Focus on their purpose. Show them how to read the Bible and how to pray. Dive deep into apologetics. Practice spiritual disciplines. Don’t be afraid to go in depth with theology, history and Christian practice. Many professors and peers will challenge their faith; help them be secure in the truth.

Next, explain the cost of non-discipleship. Recently, I got a credit card. When I used it, my bank account was unaffected. It was great! However, a few weeks later I got a statement with a bunch of charges along with a balance. Everything at the beginning of the month seemed free, but I had to pay the cost at the end.

This is similar to how many people live their lives. The wide road our culture is on appears to be costless. However, the penalty for our sin is paid at the end. Jesus demands full surrender. He asks for our entire lives.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” This comes with a real cost. It is costly to follow Jesus.

Growing up, I remember going to a conference where the invitation to follow Jesus made it seem like living the Christian life would be easy. Yet, it is not. I believe that’s why so many start the race but few finish.

It’s important to explain the cost of discipleship to teenagers. It may cost them their desires, goals, dreams and ambitions. While the cost of discipleship is high, the cost of non-discipleship is even higher.

I’m reminded of the story in John 6. Jesus taught a hard truth to the crowd and many of His disciples left. Jesus turned and asked Peter if he was leaving too. Peter said, “Where else would we go?” Help the students you’re entrusted with understand that following Jesus may cost them much in this world, but the joy found in Him is incomparable.

Along those same lines, teach your students how to overcome temptation. I have been tempted multiple times with multiple sins while I have been on campus. And since I am a college athlete, it makes it even harder to be holy.

This is probably the experience many have because they have few authority figures telling them what to do. For many, it’s hard to handle their new freedom.

Unfortunately, that’s why numerous new college students embrace the worldly collegiate lifestyle. They participate in the typical college activities. They struggle with apathy and complacency in their faith.

I believe our student ministries are doing a good job of explaining what sin is, but some may lack in explaining how to fight sin. Most students know what God’s Word says about issues but lack the wisdom in applying practicality. Teach them not only what sin is but why it is wrong. Help them realize decisions have consequences.

Additionally, I had not been around a lot of the temptations I encountered. They were new to me. Warn your students about the obstacles they will be around, and teach them how to overcome them.

Fourth, show them the importance of church. Growing up, church wasn’t a priority for me. I spent many weekends playing in AAU tournaments. I skipped Wednesday night worship to hang out with my friends. I missed trips and events because of sports.

However, my senior year of high school, I got involved with a church and student ministry. The student pastor reinforced why church was necessary. He showed me the value of community. It was then that I decided I wanted to stay involved even when I graduated.

Show your students why it’s not about just going to church but being actively involved. It’s about surrounding themselves with other believers so that they can sharpen one another. It’s about using their gifts to serve. Furthermore, help them connect with churches in their new town.

It was very helpful to me that my student pastor sent my contact information to churches and the BSU in Columbus. Because of that, ministers were calling me. They told me what to do and where to go to make my first visit less awkward.

Make it a habit to send the contact information of your seniors to other college pastors and BCM directors where they are going to school. Send your former students texts and notes that encourage them to stay involved in a church (not just a campus ministry). Being involved in church has made the world of difference in my walk with Jesus.

Lastly, model how to share your faith. My campus ministry prayer walks our university a lot. We talk to people about prayer needs, but we use it as a launching point to share our faith.

I’ve discovered that many college students are ill-equipped.  A lot of people even know strategies but not how to connect it to a real-life context. They also cannot defend their faith very well, or they lack the confidence to do so.

In your ministry, model evangelism. Teach them methods but also show them how to put the methods into practice. Help them understand how to articulate why they believe what they believe. Prepare them to defend their faith. Take them on mission trips. Put them in situations where they have to share.

The transition from high school to college is tough. I believe these strategies and many more can help incoming college freshmen be prepared for what’s to come. My faith has become more mature and stronger during my time on campus, and I desire the same for my peers.

Grayson Long is a member of First Baptist Church, Haleyville; a junior at MUW in Columbus, Mississippi; and MUW BSU president.

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