Help college students get a ‘faith start’ by encouraging them throughout high school

By Margaret Colson
The Alabama Baptist

How can parents and church leaders help students transition from high school into college, so they not only succeed educationally and personally but also more importantly grow spiritually in their Christian faith?

Approximately 70–80% of “incoming college students move away from their faith in college,” said Chris Mills, student missions mobilizer for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. Because of that startling statistic, Alabama Baptist leaders recently led a Q-and-A webinar, “Transitions: How to Successfully Transition Your Students from High School to College.”

First 3 weeks

“The first three weeks of college are extremely important,” said Mills.

Those first weeks of college “determine patterns” for students, he said, and also establish “connections” that may endure for the students’ entire college career.

Of Alabama’s approximately 300,000 college students, as many as 200,000 “do not have a relationship with Jesus, are not engaged in church, are not engaged in living out their faith,” he said.

Cleve Mallory, student pastor at Eastmont Baptist Church in Montgomery, said time and again he has seen students “who were raised in a church context” drift away from their faith.

To help counter what has become a “norm,” Mallory challenges his fellow student leaders not to procrastinate but rather to “have purpose in what we’re doing … and communicate that.”

When students are involved in a youth ministry, he said, church leaders, other adult leaders and parents must “speak vision into them” using positive reinforcement, stating phrases such as, “I can’t wait to see how God uses you on your college campus.” Such statements create “a vision that they can see and that they can attain,” he said.

He also challenges campus ministry leaders to hold students “accountable on campus in a biblical way and … push them and challenge them … to take deeper steps in their faith, where they can take ownership of who they are and who Christ is wanting them to become when they have stepped away from the umbrella of mother and father.”

Staying focused

Keeping Christian students focused on their faith happens most often through local churches, Baptist Campus Ministries and other campus ministries.

Alabama Baptists currently have BCM on the campuses of every four-year public college in the state, as well as on many community college campuses.

An Alabama Baptist transitions team has noted at least three characteristics that demonstrate a student’s readiness to make a successful transition from high school to college:

  1. Ability to communicate the gospel
  2. Capacity to share a personal salvation testimony
  3. Capability to participate in beneficial ways in small groups.

Campus ministers and student pastors need to connect before students make the transition to college. Bill Morrison, BCM lead campus minister at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, urges student leaders in Alabama Baptist churches to give campus ministers “access to graduating seniors before the summer of their freshman year.”

The SBOM office of collegiate and student ministries offers a simple online form at bcmlink.org for individuals to provide contact information for graduating seniors so that campus ministers can contact them before they arrive on campus as freshmen.

Staying connected

Even after students have transitioned to college, student pastors can keep their relationships strong with the students by connecting through technology or occasionally visiting the college campuses.

The challenge and beauty of youth ministry, Mallory said, is “we never get to know how successful we’ve truly been until they’re beyond our reach.”