by Cory Sullivan
The holiday season is upon us. I swear I will watch Home Alone as least 14 times by New Year’s. This is an amazing time of year. People naturally tend to be kinder, more outgoing and more giving. The smell of Christmas trees, lights on houses and the traditions. Families decorating their Christmas trees together, fighting over the best Christmas cookies and enjoying the added craziness this season brings. This time of year means that families are coming together again. People are travelling and kids who have left the house for college are coming home.
The holiday break gives churches a unique opportunity to reconnect with kids returning home from college. Statistics show that this is the age of students to become the “nomads, prodigals and exiles” of their faith. This short time frame can be critical to re-engage a faith that may be wavering. Though, the honest truth is that it is easy to lose touch with students who have graduated. Creating a system that walks, encourages and loves students from afar is a great way for students to stay connected relationally. Reflect on your ministry and what you do to stay connected with students when they go away for college. For now, when they come back for holiday, we cannot miss out on these few precious weeks of connection we get with familiar faces. Here are a few ways you can help your churches to stay connected with these young adults.
Connect them to leaders
Your leaders are your best option in connecting with students returning from college. Create a plan with SGLs to get them ready for an influx of old, familiar, faces. Have these SGLs, who have relational credit with these college students, re-ignite that old relationship. Encourage SGLs to invite them out to coffee, go see a movie, and ask them to come to church and sit with them. Prepare those SGLs to ask some questions to have a good conversations about life. These conversations are a great time to check in with these college students. Check up on their faith, where they are with God, if they are in Christian community at school, helping them navigate struggles and issues that have arisen in this past college semester. Ask them tough questions like: “What was your biggest regret this semester?” Or, “When did you see God the most?” Their answers to some of these questions can reveal a lot. These relationships don’t end when a student graduates high school. A strategy needs to be in place to walk with students in the first year through college. Be sure that SGLs haven’t forgotten these students that may not be around anymore.
Connect them to church
A great way to make these college students feel connected is to plug them back into your student ministry programming. Allow them to give back to your program, in a new role. Create an environment that allows them to share with current seniors about their first semester away. Let them invest in the student programs for the holidays. From storytelling, skits, to Christmas plays the holiday season is always a time when the church could use some extra hands. Talk to senior staff about creating a holiday break internship position. This can give college kids some great resume builders and some needed cash if it is in the church’s budget. Another great way to connect them to church is through the young adult program. The first few years of college can be an awkward stage as students transition to being adults. Connect them with your young adults program at church can help them to develop their own faith and community within the church.
Connect them to one another
Winter break offers you a chance to connect these college kids to one another again. Chances are they all went through your student ministry together and many are old friends. Tap into that friendship, leverage it to connect with them. Host an ugly sweater party just for college kids. Go pull some pranks on high school kids. These young men and women need to connect with other college kids in similar situations. Share similar experiences, learn from one another’s mistakes and challenge one another to grow in their faith. College is where kids are developing their own identities, insights, views, and trying to figure life out. They need to do that in community, with other people in similar situations, to help them along the way.
Connect them to Jesus
You have a couple weeks with these students. It was over a school break that my faith really became my own faith, that Jesus wasn’t just knowledge in my head but I knew Him. This time can be valuable in connecting these college students back to church in order to connect them to Jesus. Challenge their faith. Remind them of the need in all of our lives for a relationship with Jesus. This can be done through a church service but is great when it can be done by people they know care about them. These young men and women are wrestling with life. They are wrestling with Jesus too. We, as leaders, can help.
It is important to utilize the time you have with these college students to connect with them. Building community and reminding them of life-changing relationships can reignite their faith. This holiday season, be intentional with these college kids. They will remember it and it may just be the nudge they need.
Cory Sullivan is the student guy at New Life Christian Church in Chantilly, Virginia. He has served students in various capacities since his time in college. Find him at: www.theconqueringofchaos.com or on Twitter, @big_sully55