Helping Your College Bound Young Adult Find a Church

By Pastor Brian Merz

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I know several families who will be dropping a son or daughter off for their freshman year of college within the next several weeks. The experience of driving away without your child is filled with a wide range of emotions from excitement for them to the anticipated loneliness of seeing your home life changed forever. I know this firsthand because we did the same thing four years ago when our oldest child began college in St. Louis, a city which is 1,600 miles away from our home. I will be making a similar trip with our son next month as he starts college in a town 1,700 miles from home.

I want to share one piece of advice for parents facing this experience.

When we took our daughter to St. Louis, we went through the normal things of setting up a dorm room, talking with the financial aid office, and buying books. Like most parents, we made sure she knew how to get around campus. We made sure she knew where the laundry facility was located and how to pay for it. We went over the meal plan and the various cafeteria options. However, I see a troubling omission in what many parents seek for their children during this transition: very few parents help their kids find a church home.

I’m certainly not alone in hoping that my daughter would attend church while she’s away at college. I imagine most Christian parents have this hope for their kids. But it seems strange that few take any action to help their kids find a church when this is something they’ve never done before.

I actually contacted the leaders of several national ministries that operate on the campus where my daughter would be attending. I asked them about the spiritual environment on the campus. I asked where the students in their ministry attended church. I asked about their weekly meetings and how students could get connected. One told me I was the first parent to ever ask these questions. Think about this. The director of a national college ministry on a campus with thousands of students said that not a single parent had ever called him to get information about the spiritual climate on this campus or how their freshman student could connect with the ministry or nearby churches. Not one. It seems parents are concerned about their kid’s academic success but give little or no attention to their spiritual success.

I’m glad I made these phone calls because when I took the responses from campus leaders and combined them with a search on Google Maps, it became apparent which churches were most likely going to fit for our daughter. We even drove to one of them during our 4-day trip so she would know where it was located. I plan to show some churches to my son next month when I take him to Northwestern University.

I said above that I want to share one piece of advice. That advice is “In helping your son or daughter learn about how to navigate life on their own, be sure to include helping them find a church home.”

I obviously understand that you have no power to ensure they will go to church. They are adults now and church attendance is a decision they need to make for themselves. However, in helping them find a church home, you have communicated something very important about your values and hopes. Let me explain.

We help them learn to navigate campus because we value academic performance and hope they do well in their studies. They know about this value and expectation. We help them find the cafeteria because we value good food and hope they make wise nutritional choices. They also probably know about this value and expectation. We help them find the laundry facility because we expect them to use it and wear clean clothes. Again, most of our kids are aware of this expectation. Church is no different. We help them find a church because we value their spiritual growth and hope they will include church in their life.

There’s no guarantee that your child will show up for class, eat well, or do the laundry. But they probably are aware of your hopes in these areas. Are they aware of your hopes for their spiritual lives as well? It’s good for them to hear that we value this part of their lives.

It was a joy of mine that our daughter became involved in a great church in St. Louis. She ended up attending the one we visited during our brief trip to drop her off. I hope your sons and daughters will likewise choose to connect with a local church while at college. Helping them find one is one way you can gently influence that decision.

Here’s some links where you can search for CRU, Intervarsity, and The Navigators ministries on college campuses in the US:

Benjamin Steiner