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Bringing College-Age Students Under Our Youth Ministry Umbrella


In the last 24 months my job title has been altered to include college-age students. The process of taking on this roll came in the midst of an ongoing discussion centered around answering one question:

What is our church’s answer to meeting the spiritual the needs of college-age students? What will ministry to this group look like?

My first response was that we didn't want to create a ministry that would merely be another great college ministry. In fact, I put it this way: I want the ability to ministry to college students, but not have a “college ministry,” per se. For me this is a HUGE philosophical difference. I want to see this ministry to college-age students as an extension of our student ministry philosophy. I don't want to look at the high school seniors who have been through my ministry and simply say “good luck!”

I love the conversations surrounding the “sticky faith” initiative being advanced by Kara Powell, Chap Clark and the Fuller Youth Institute team. I’m on board with the mindset of seeing faith grow in young adults instead of wither, even as I know our church as a whole is a ways away from this being part of the DNA. But we’re moving in that direction.And part of this movement is some realizations I thought I’d share with you. Maybe you’ve seen some similar things?

1. More Potential For Significant Relationship

I’ve watched many college-age students enjoy their college journey while watching others feel lost. A MAJOR variable seems to be how solid of a “friend base” they have. The rhythms of college life seem to give more time for developing meaningful relationships. And friends don’t just influence their thinking, but may dictate their life trajectory. I love the thought of seeing the relationships we have with our high school students deepen as they begin college.

2. Partnering To Teach Life Skills

I see so many college-age students get overwhelmed when everything they have to juggle hits them at once. I’ve had way too many college freshmen ask me how to teach them to balance a check boo, or help them manage their weekly calendar. I’m planning to create a stronger voice to parents of younger teens around these observations, including a well-aimed and well-intentioned kick in the pants so they can quit helicopter parenting their kids. But being in the position to help the transition from high school to college is important in this area.

3. Opportunity To Journey Together Through Questions And Doubts

As we know, the faith conversation broadens as students engage in college classes & social settings. And as we know, truth is positioned as negotiable based on what they learn in philosophy 101 or rooming with someone from a different faith background. Students cling to statements like “I still believe Jesus is God” in the midst of an atmosphere designed to pick apart such statements. I love the opportunity this new structure will provide us to help students learn how to think and not simply what to think. I look forward to continuing the deeper dialogue we start with our students in high school.

4. The Need For A Consistent, Trusted Voice

Pretty regularly, I’ll I get a message from a college age student who’s grown up in our ministry that looks something like this: “Hey life’s kinda weird, can we talk?” I love the fact that students seek me out to talk. I love being the pastoral voice in their lives. I love speaking truth, grace, and love into their lives. Part of this new ministry role is the opportunity to do more of this.


I have yet to become a college ministry guru.:) But I’ve learned some great insights and been reminded of others. And I believe, at least in our context, creating space for our students to transition into college while keeping many of the same relationships intact is a great new development.

What about you?

Does your ministry context provide an opportunity for you to consider extending your ministry’s reach to students transitioning into college? Have you ever considered it? What are some potential positives and negatives be?

About the Author

Danny Bowers

Danny Bowers oversees the student ministries at First Baptist Church Harvester in Missouri. He is married to his high school sweetheart & they have two sons. You can follow Danny on his blog at

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Hey Danny, I'm curious as to what your programming is going to look like. Are you envisioning groups/services for college aged students or more events/one on one kinds of things? Or something different?
by: Corey May 7, 2012 12:53 pm
I guess this is one of those areas where my experience is different from doing youth ministry in another country. Because my home country of The Netherlands (Holland) is so small, most students come home to their parents on the weekends. That means they usually stay part of the youth ministry until they finish college/university and move somewhere for their first job. So college ministry in that sense has always been part of your youth ministry and it's fully integrated. Our age groups are 12-16 (teens), 16-23 (youth) and 23-30 (young adults). Within the youth group, we do usually make 'separate' small groups for college students because they tend to want to dig a little deeper, but other than that, they're fully integrated into our youth ministry. It only shows how practices can differ per country!
by: Rachel Blom May 8, 2012 4:16 am
Rachel, In that context, have churches done a better job of retaining churches young people and keeping them connected throughout young adulthood?
by: Corey May 8, 2012 7:10 am
Great question Corey. I was thinking the same thing in response to Rachel's comment.
by: andy@ym360 May 8, 2012 3:28 pm
Argh, this is a topic I'm passionate about; however, overwhelmed. I think Danny makes some great points and steps in areas we need to tackle as youth ministers. I believe the solution isn't programming, but preparing for the next step. It's also about partnering with those who focus on adult ministry/discipleship in the church. On top of preparing we need to make sure we are capable of welcoming young adults into the adult culture of the church.
by: Chris Wesley May 9, 2012 10:27 am
Well said, friend, as always. From my perspective I haven't encountered a lot of churches that do a great job at college ministry. (My home church actually has a thriving college ministry program, so I get to see one that works weekly.) But there are so many environmental factors that are making this something we need to continue to try and address. Good discussion.
by: andy@ym360 May 10, 2012 8:52 am
It's hard to compare numbers, because postmodernism has far more influence in Holland than in the US. For instance, the number of young people who state they believe in God is drastically lower. That does mean however that those who say they do believe, tend to be more 'serious' about it. But about your question: I can't quote the exact statistics because we don;t have a Barna group that does all this impressive research, but yes, I do feel that churches are succeeding better in this area. Young people still leave the church in far too great numbers, let me be clear about that, but it's not the 'college-break' that's causing this. It's a more general crisis of faith and a church that doesn't succeed in making faith relevant for everyday life. My feeling is that we tend to lose kids before college, more when they're 16, 17 or so.
by: Rachel Blom May 11, 2012 2:41 am
Good thoughts and I love your heart! BUT regarding "Partnering to teach Life Skills"... Yes, I have several "enabling parent friends" who cater to their kids and then the kids hit their 20's and 30's and fall apart with what seems like normal stress to me. I agree that there is too much helicopter parenting going on! However, before you give a "well intentioned kick in the pants" know that sometimes parents are faced with a kid who REFUSES TO TAKE INSTRUCTION no matter what. Soft approaches, visual approaches,stern approaches...doesn't matter...they don't want to really learn or hear it. But, they can hear the same advice from someone else and like it! It is very frustrating to try to lovingly teach a kid who remains unteachable. Don't get me wrong I love the idea of a "kick in the pants" for parents. I think most of us need that as a reminder. And I'll take it with the rest of them BUT consider that there are some kids (maybe not a majority?) who just want to cry about their problems and not take the actual steps toward doing something about it. They want a quick fix or several people to talk to and then several more! Just sayin...
by: Mom of teens May 16, 2012 12:55 pm
MOT, It's a valid point, for sure. I can't speak for Danny, but I can say that in my experience, I've certainly encountered many parents who have done all they can do and their students simply chooses not to listen. Thanks for stopping by!
by: andy@ym360 May 16, 2012 11:30 pm