Campus ministries walk fine line in connecting with first-year college students

Asbury Ministry

Students get involved in a number of service projects through Asbury Ministry at Drexel University.*

Assistance on dorm move-in day, free food for lunch, Friday night movies and popcorn—these are some of the methods UM campus ministries use to connect with new students during their first days and weeks at college. “As funny or lighthearted as the first few weeks are, they are central to breaking the ice and getting students connected to people and to a ministry that can forever change their life,” says the Rev. Michael D. McCord, director of Campus Ministry Resources and Training at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM).

As most campus ministers know, there can be a fine line between encouraging student involvement and coming across as too heavy-handed. “It’s not at all uncommon for students who have been very active in church in high school to want to take a break once they get to college,” says the Rev. Betsy Eaves, chaplain of Centenary College of Louisiana in Shreveport. “It’s a time for them to step back and decide what is theirs—what they believe versus what their parents taught them. Students tend to come and go when it comes to engagement with their spirituality. It’s a time in their lives when they are raising a lot of questions. As chaplain, I want to get to know them and to be there for them in conversation, guiding them, and offering support to help them come through this period in a healthy way.”

If established campus outreach is tricky, the situation can be even more difficult for pastors and members of local congregations extending invitations to off-campus activities. At First UMC in Winfield, the key to successful outreach has been an emphasis on service. “We have invited lots of college students to be involved in ministries of the church through volunteering with our youth ministry, working in our nursery, working with our Kids’ Day In program for preschool children, and serving on ministry teams in the church,” says Bill Podschun, director of Christian education. “Our congregation also has many persons who are connected to the campus as teachers, administrators and volunteers. They all help us have a presence on campus and make our church a comfortable place for young adults to come and worship.”

According to McCord, involving students early on in campus ministry tends to help them feel more spiritually engaged. “Across the board, I see acts of radical hospitality and service as ways that campus ministries can help new students feel connected to the campus,” McCord says. “Those first days, you don’t know anybody or anything, and campus ministry has a unique opportunity to stand in that gap, providing connectivity tools and offering friendships that will help those students feel more grounded.” —Renee Elder for GBHEM – www.gbhem.org

* The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference has a campus ministry at Drexel University: www.asburyatdrexel.org.  For more information, contact Rev. Amy and Rev. Tim Emmett-Rardin: asbury@drexel.edu.