In the ten months since I wrote Dear College Student, Go to Church, I’ve attended three different churches while living in three different places for school, an internship, and study abroad. I want to emphasize that this is not a list of grievances against any of those churches. In fact, I feel equipped to write it for precisely the opposite reason: each one has welcomed me so richly and warmly. I hope that it encourages you if you are in high school or college, but I also hope that it encourages you if you are wondering how you can welcome students and young adults into your congregation.
Thank you for opening your doors to us. Thank you for creating college ministries and student Bible studies. Thank you for being sensitive to the trials we face and striving to show us how God’s Word applies to our lives. Thank you for wanting to welcome us.
Please don’t stop there. Please don’t water down the Bible in an attempt to make it “relevant.” Instead, lead us in substantive Bible studies. Preach the Word in season and out of season. Tell us the truth, not what you think we want to hear. The student Bible study I’m attending right now is tackling how to study OT Scripture through a sound hermeneutical lens. I have already been so challenged and so blessed by it.
Please don’t separate us from everyone else. Student groups are great, but when we are always encouraged to sit with other college students, this does both us and the rest of the church a great disservice. We share the responsibility for getting out of our comfort zone and talking to you, of course, but please know that we want to talk to you. We would love to hear about your grandchildren, your wedding last year, and how transitioning into high school is harder than you thought. In your haste to give us a space to talk about college, please also give us a space to talk with people who are in a different season of life.
Please invite us over for lunch. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Offer us coffee and a seat in your living room while your kids talk about the projects they’re doing at school. I will always remember that my very first Sunday at college, my pastor’s family invited me over for lunch before even meeting me, and because God is so merciful in so many tiny ways, we ate the same meal that my family was eating back at home. Please know that we may be so intimidated by the first or second impulsive lunchtime invitation that we might say no. Please keep trying.
Please offer us rides to church. We will be so grateful.
Please invite us to Sunday school and evening service and after-church lunches and choir practices. It is very easy for us to feel like we can’t really contribute because we’re only passing through. Please help us understand that we can make this our home.
Please be patient with us. We are figuring out what we want to do and how we want to do it and how that fits into our calling to glorify God. Because of this, we are going to have a lot of questions and probably mess up once or twice or fifty times. Please be patient with us. The best way you can make us understand that we can be honest with you about our struggles is to listen and then to speak in truth and grace. I know this is not easy to do, but it is what we need.
Dear church, sinners redeemed by grace, we are not that different from you, despite our worries about finals instead of finances and first dates instead of families. Paul reminds the Ephesians that “there is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6 ESV). Jesus prays in John 17:20-21: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” The unity of believers is powerful. Please strive toward it with us.
I know the love of God by the blood of Christ, but I have seen the love of God reflected in tables set for lunch and how-are-you emails and cups of coffee. I have felt it as I have been asked, really and truly, how I am doing. Dear church, please do not underestimate the impact you can have on us.
I have joined a new church three times in the past three years. It is terrifying. Dear college students: do it. Dear church: please encourage us as we do.
A college student