As I was thinking about this and trying hard to remember my college years (quite some time ago), I thought about how my feelings of "home" changed. At some point I started thinking of the campus as home. College is one of those experiences where you are a group of people in a similar somewhat stressful situation. so you develop strong bonds pretty quickly. You make new friends and it doesn't take long before you recognize that you don't have a lot to say to those friends you left behind, who went their way and made new friends too. The thing is, that's a normal process. Sending care packages is nice, but Our concern should not be to keep college students connected to their youth group friends, it should be that they find ways to continue to grow their faith.
To that end I recommend the following:
- Find out if there's a faith organization on campus. Contact their office and let them know the name of the youth who will matriculate there in the fall.
- Find out if there's a Lutheran church near the campus and contact them as well, sharing the name of the student and asking that somebody reach out to see if the student needs a ride to church. Try using Student Connect, to help find a Christian faith community.
- If possible, have the parents visit the church with their child before s/he moves into the dorm, apartment, etc.
- Get your youth in the habit of doing weekly online devotions either in a blog format (students can help write them) or on a Facebook page. The devotions can be sent out to phones, computers, or tablets. Make sure you ask a question and see if you can get some responses.
- Pray in written form for those students on those electronic pages as well. Create some memes of Bible verses and add their first names to them so they (high school and college youth) know when it's their turn. I found in my classroom that kids loved knowing I was praying for them when it was their turn.
- Remember that not going to church for a while at this age is normal. This is a transition time. They need to choose worship for themselves and come to a realization that they're doing it for them, not for others. At some point it needs to be a response to God, not your parents.
- In October or November start asking them how they want to participate in a worship service when they get home. Start transitioning them into an adult role. Have them read scripture during the service, be a last minute usher, help with communion, etc.
- College students often have a long break over Christmas, get them involved with Christmas activities and have them substitute for Sunday School teachers on break.
- This is the big one. Have them talk to the high schoolers about what they've learned about themselves while away. As the frontal cortex of their brains continue to develop, it's important for them to continue thinking about and talking about their faith in connection to their life and life choices. Let it be simple question/answer, but have a few thoughtful questions prepared ahead of time to get things going. A few samples:
- How is college different from high school?
- How are the people in college different from the people in high school?
- What have you noticed about your faith in this time? Growing? Shrinking?
- What do you miss the most?
- Is it hard to find a church? :
- Do you find yourself praying more or less?
- What's the best thing about college?
- What's the hardest thing about college?
- It would also be super cool if you could get a few together to talk to the adults too!! Just sayin...
The bottom line is that it will be rare for them to go off to college and remain close with their high school friends for too long. We need to find ways to start the transition to their new roles as young adults or just plain old adults like the rest of us.