Launching College Students Who Land in the Local Church

By September of his senior year, David had two great job offers. Two offers. In two totally different cities. As he compared the hiring packages, starting salaries and corporate cultures for each position, we challenged him to consider one more factor: location. As his campus ministers, we asked, Which offer will land you in a place where you can find a healthy church?

More Than an Afterthought

As students prepare for life after college, too often they focus a few items necessary for living on their own: securing a job, finding an apartment, having a paycheck in hand, and so on. Church becomes an afterthought. If we want to equip students to land in a local church after college, we need to help them consider this aspect of their lives long before they actually transition. There are many reasons why students don’t connect to a church after graduation: they can’t find one they like, they don’t know how to search, or they’re not convinced it matters. In the challenges of transitional times, church may feel like “one more thing” in the midst of other priorities.

If we want students to choose church, first and foremost we must offer a robust ecclesiology – what church is and why we go. Recent graduates need the church and the church needs them. They also need to know that their church experience in the next phase may look very different from college, and that’s okay! Most churches are not filled with individuals who are the same age or in the same life stage as they are. Age (and other) diversity may be an adjustment for some alumni. That’s why it’s crucial to offer good theology and healthy perspective. Church, in all of its mess and beauty, allows God to manifest his glory, us to experience community and the world to find hope. We are all diminished without it.

Students who understand why church matters are better prepared to find one when they leave. Post-college life requires purposefulness. Perhaps like no other time, accountability structures and social momentum have been removed; the onus is on them. If recent graduates know why they’re looking (it’s all about Jesus, not about me) and what they’re looking for (there’s no perfect church and no two churches are alike), they can make a short list of the non-negotiables they’re searching for in a church but be open from there.

List Non-Negotiables, Leverage Networks, & Consider Place

On a practical level, we can help our students discern their list of non-negotiables. For example, they can choose their musts (i.e. gospel-centered, bible-believing), their wants (i.e. band-led worship, people my age), and those things they’re flexible about (i.e. service times, small group structure). Also, we can help them leverage their network and ours for church recommendations. We keep a database of church recommendations that current students and alumni can access. Students can use it for suggestions, and once they’ve graduated and land in a local church, they can update the database with their recommendations.

Last but never least, let’s help our students consider place. We encourage students to think about moving to a location where they know they will have good church options, or if they’re not sure what’s next, we challenge them to move for a church community or church plant instead of for a job!

David took our challenge seriously. In fact, location was a key factor in accepting one offer over the other. He did some reconnaissance and learned that one of the positions would land in him in a city with dry spiritual soil and few gospel-centered churches. The other position took him to Philadelphia where he quickly plugged into a growing local church. Months later, David discovered that the job he accepted was not a fit. One could argue that he should have accepted the other offer! However, David does not see it this way at all. Because he had such a great church community, David was surrounded by support when he decided to leave his job. And, this community is the very reason he chose to find a new job in the area.

David credits the conversations he had during his senior year as pivotal in helping him find a healthy church after graduation – a crucial part of why he’s thriving beyond college…and why he has no desire to relocate. He’s found a church and community he wouldn’t trade.

This article first appeared in the Association of College Ministry Newsletter, © February 2018. Adapted from After College by Erica Young Reitz. © 2016 by Erica Young Reitz.  Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove  IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com