THE INTEGRATIVE APPROACH
For the the first 8 years of my ministry as the youth and young adults pastor in our congregation of about 1400 total active people, we focused primarily on congregational integration by getting college students to our Sunday worship services. They enjoyed our contemporary worship, the preaching (for the most part), and the vibrant atmosphere of the church.
GET THEM TO CHURCH
We offered free transportation by recruiting volunteer drivers to use our church van to go around to various meeting locations on the two college campuses nearby to pick up college students, bring them to church, then bring them back home again.
CONNECT THEM TO FAMILIES IN THE CHURCH
We worked hard to connect college students with families in the church through our Adopt-a-Student program. When adopted by a family, students were able to periodically enjoy a home cooked family meal, get invited to family outings, get help with their auto maintenance, have a place to do laundry once in awhile and even a quite place to do homework.
FEED THEM AT CHURCH
We also provided a free lunch after church provided by a rotation of volunteers cooks who would prepare the meal each time. At first it was just once each month but then we offered it every week.
HELP THEM MEET EACH OTHER
After a couple of years of feeding them weekly, we started doing mixers just before the meal was served to help them meet and get to know each other a bit. Then we started a few small groups that met right after the lunch to help them connect with each more deeply and discuss the message they had just heard.
GET THEM IN THE WORD
We offered a Monday night bible study led by a married couple that was deeply committed to young adults who hosted it at their home. They were able to study various subjects and books that were more relevant to their interests.
PARTNER WITH CAMPUS MINISTRIES
The last several years, I worked at building bridges with the campus ministry leaders at our local state college. I met leaders from InterVarsity, Young Life, Chai Alpha, and Lutheran Campus Ministries. I found a more consistent connection with the student leaders of Young Life and was able to provide leadership coaching, funding for some events, and fostered bridge building between their ministry and our church.
THE POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES OF THIS APPROACH
We were naturally drawing a range of about 20-40 college students each week without really doing much at all. It held more steady near 40 when we provided transportation. These college students liked our church. They loved the food that we were serving. Our cooks were really good. Some of them were able to connect with a local family through our Adopt-a-Student program and they loved it. This approach was fairly sustainable without much energy from staff. The principle of partnering with a local campus ministry was praiseworthy and the connections made were very healthy.
The van was always a bit of a headache. Toward the end, our drivers were ready to quit because they couldn’t rely on it with confidence. While we had a steady stream of college students coming in, relatively few of them stuck with us. It was quite the revolving door. The small groups we tried, weren’t very successful because of this. And, the Adopt-a-Student program, unfortunately, promoted a bit of a false hope. We always had more students interested in finding a family than we had families that were willing to adopt a student. The partnership with Young Life found very limited success beyond the connection made with their primary leaders and a few within their ministry that attended our church.
However, the biggest negative was the limited scope of our reach. With this approach, after 8 years we were still only reaching 20-40 college students with very little meaningful ministry happening with them. In our community there are over 5000 young adults ages 18-24 and another 2500 ages 25-30. We, the largest evangelical church in town were only reaching .5% of young adults. In fact my research showed that only 300-400 young adults were meaningfully connected with any church or ministry in the area. That’s only a little more than 5% of the young adult population. Almost 95% of young adults have no faith community, many of whom probably don’t even know Jesus.
We needed to do something different. So, we started a Church within a Church for Young Adults called Compass. Watch for the next post to learn more about it.