“Wait…where are you going??” Her eyes widened and her tone colored with concern. I had been explaining instructions for the day to my senior girls in the parking lot of a new church. Somewhere along the way they realized I was using the pronoun “you” instead of “we.” Something different was happening.
I would not be walking into church with them.
I would not be easing the transition to this new place.
I would not be finding the room where they needed to go.
I would not be introducing us to the new people we met.
I would be close by, but this time they were on their own. At 9:20am I smiled, nodded and told them they should probably start heading inside. The spiritual exercise had begun.
2 Reasons Why Students Don’t Find a Church Home in College
Reading statistics about faith after high school is unsettling. Studies indicate about half of high school seniors will leave the church after graduation. That’s crazy! This means about 50% of the high school senior girls I interact with on Sunday mornings will be gone in a year!
Yet as more of my girls graduate I am beginning to hear hints of why…
- It’s awkward and uncomfortable.
Think about it – some of our girls have attended the same church since they were babies. They adore their pastor, love the contemporary worship music and feel at home among their friends.
As they transition to college, however, the safety net is gone. No one is rushing to greet them when they walk into a new church. Friend groups already exist. It’s uncomfortable, intimidating and hard. Often they want a clone of what they had in high school and after not receiving it, they don’t attend at all.
- It’s not important to them.
When a girl hasn’t owned her faith in high school, it’s unsurprising when her behavior drifts as accountability disappears.
College hasn’t changed her heart – it has simply revealed it.
For others though, it is a slow fade. The first couple trips to find a church home may have been discouraging and as the full impact of classes and the college social life set in, sleep looks more and more appealing on an early Sunday morning. They love Jesus. They think the church is important. Yet it slips off their list of priorities.
Helping Seniors Choose a Church Home in College
Most of the above reasons I can do nothing about. Some churches will be friendly, but others will not. Her alarm clock may go off, but two feet have to hit the floor. Her Bible and all sorts of resources may be at her fingertips, but dust touches everything unused.
Yet the numbers indicated to me that I needed to pop the Sunday bubble my girls are used to. To be spiritually prepared for college I need her to think through –
- Theological beliefs – What are deal breakers? Are there areas where it is okay to agree to disagree?
- Church Styles – What are her priorities? Is teaching more important to her than worship or vice versa? Where does she need to remind herself that different isn’t wrong?
- Community – Does she want to join a large church? Small church? Why should she be wary of simply watching a service online?
But with my girls I decided that instead of talking about it – we would do it. Through a church field trip, I would create a “mock experience” of what my girls will experience in college while also giving me space to guide and dialogue with them about their thoughts and impressions.
When planning, I researched and took my girls to a church that significantly differed from the one we currently attend. Since we attend a megachurch, I chose a church that was significantly smaller.
Upon arrival at the church, each girl receives a scavenger hunt type activity. It gives her questions to ask, information to find out and space for sermon notes. Page one of the scavenger hunt poses questions like –
- Is there a college group? If so, what time do they meet and where?
- If possible, introduce yourself to the college pastor. Explain that you will be going to college next year. Does he have any advice for high school seniors who are looking for their church home in college?
- Ask one of the college girls why she chose this church.
If you are a subscriber to Discipling Girls, you can access the full scavenger hunt activity here!
Then they are on their own to navigate the next few hours.
The End of Our Trip
As morning passed and Sunday School and worship service came to a close, I watched a pastor slip in his final words as my girls walked out the church doors with their bright yellow visitor bags. I had barely gotten the words “How’d it go?” out of my mouth before they started exclaiming how friendly everyone was and jokingly demonstrating how the gospel could be shared by their new visitor mugs.
Their particular trip was a good experience. They aren’t always so positive, yet always
valuable. These trips continually spark meaningful and powerful feedback. Sometimes I can’t help but laugh as they exclaim “HOW was that a contemporary service when we were singing the 90s version of ‘Blessed Be the Name of the Lord’?”. Yet other times I get a sobering reminder of how important these trips are as they admit they considered watching a church service online since they didn’t know whether they would find a good church.
As they step into a big life transition, one of the wisest choices high school graduates can make is to stay close and connected to the body of Christ – a body that is so much bigger than their home church. My job then as their leader is to provide opportunities – opportunities for them to build their confidence now so that their first step in searching for a new church home in college is not quite so hard. So that in a year they will confidently be able to say,
“One of the best decisions I made as a freshman was committing to a church.”