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How to Connect with College Students

The Fall 2023 semester is right around the corner. At SDSU, move-in is tomorrow, August 17! This academic year could be an opportunity for your congregation to connect with college students in a new way. Here are a few tips and ideas that may spark your imagination about how your congregation can share the good news of Christ with college students this school year.

Serve: It’s no surprise that the current economic instability affects the most vulnerable the most. As housing and education costs continue to skyrocket, many students are forced to choose between tuition and rent. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, meeting physical needs like food and shelter is foundational to any spiritual, emotional, or psychological care or support.

What resources do you have to offer to serve the physical needs of students?

Could you organize a group to provide weekly meals for college students?

Are you a property owner? Could you rent your property to students at an affordable rate? Does your congregation have an activism or advocacy cohort with whom you could partner with to organize community members? Could you host an educational event like the affordable housing forum created by Faith in Action at St. Andrew’s, Encinitas?

Engage: At Agape House SDSU, we sit on campus with free food and a big sign about it. We play some music, have a place to sit, and welcome people as they show interest. When we connect with someone, we’re not shy about asking to exchange information (“I come here every week, and I usually send a reminder text – would you like a weekly reminder text about free pizza?”). I’ve found pretty good odds they’ll say, “Yes.”

It’s an unusual thing to hand out free food without strings attached, so students may seem skeptical at first, but that’s because they’re waiting for whatever earful you wanted to give them while they ate their pizza. Surprise them by instead asking questions about them. The best way to make someone feel welcome, seen, and valued is to show genuine interest in getting to know them!

People always ask, “Why are you doing this?” For us at Agape, the answer is something like, “Because we love you!” or “Because we love meeting new people and making a space for people to connect and relax.” And because most of us don’t encounter a lot of people disrupting people’s norms and routines to create a connection, the conversation always picks up from there.

If you or your church want to join Agape House in this on-campus ministry, please contact me at heather@agapesandiego.org

If your church isn’t very close to a college campus, or if there is another congregation that meets closer, consider visiting the campus together or on a rotating schedule. The unity of the Episcopal Church is one of our glowing strengths, and we share a testimony of peace when we can partner across congregations and function as one body to love the world. Students are paying attention to signals that you value unity and diversity. 

Support: Create a space outside of the church and outside of the classroom for students to ask questions that feel like they belong in neither. Students are exploring new ideas and examining old beliefs–sometimes, people are afraid about what they can or can’t say in a church building or in class. A spiritual community for students holds space for both doubts and curiosities, for processing and unlearning, so think about a neutral location that can offer this, like a park or even a café. Reminder: you don’t have to have answers to listen to people’s questions!

By consistently showing up and holding space, by offering authenticity and belonging, we offer students a taste of life in the community carried in their hearts as they continue to grow and lead in the world. 

If these ideas have stirred anything up in you or you would like more support brainstorming with your congregation on how to connect with college students, I would be happy to help. You can reach me with any questions at heather@agapesandiego.org.

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Category: #Evangelism, #Outreach, #Service

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