Christian Parents, Are Your Campus Visits Missing This Piece?

“Inside-the-box” thinking can stand in the way of better college prep.

Benson, with a long history of college ministry involvement, has seen what it takes to succeed spiritually. Part of great college prep is setting students up for this kind of success, too. So enjoy this “bonus article” that looks at one great (and simple) way to prep for spiritual success in college.

I love chatting with parents about their kids’ college choices. And of course, one part of preparing for college is taking trips to visit the schools under consideration!

I’ve realized, however, that Christian parents regularly miss one BIG opportunity when it comes to campus visits. It’s an item that’s easy to overlook, because the focus of most college visits is generally on the school itself. Yet for Christian students (and their families), that “inside-the-box” thinking means they’re missing a key part of great college prep…

Thinking about church.

Repeating the Beat

It’s understandable that families don’t think about “the church angle” when planning a college visit. But my background in college ministry has helped me realize that this belongs right in the middle of your campus visit plans. So hopefully this article will broaden your horizons – or more importantly, your student’s.

I probably don’t have to tell you that investing in a church during the college years is important. It’s not enough to assume that spiritual growth from high school will sustain someone all the way through college. (A walk with the Lord doesn’t last four years without being fed!) But more than that, your student will likely be “on their own” for the first time, temptations arise at EVERY school, and (in many cases) new friends and new teachers and new experiences will challenge the faith they’ve built so far.

Church plays a big role in keeping the faith, growing it more than ever before, and preparing students to thrive as young adults after college too.

So here’s a key point to keep in mind: The more your high schooler imagines “going to church when I’m in college,” the likelier they are to actually do that once they arrive. So if your child is currently following Christ, then it’s worth mentioning “finding a church” and “going to church” regularly – not obnoxiously, but simply as another normal and expected part of college life, like classes and majors and dorms and textbooks.

And if you want to encourage church attendance in college, then the campus visit is the BEST moment to make that possibility seem “real” for your student.

Adding the Church Ingredient

How can you add church to a college campus visit? You’ve got a few great (and simple) options:

1. Look up Churches

This one should be non-negotiable for every college visit. As you and your child plan the campus visit, look up local churches online (alongside looking up hotels, college tour schedules, and local restaurants). Just make it part of the fun.

If you need tips on which churches seem to draw college students, ask a current student, scan the web sites of local college ministry chapters (which often recommend local churches), or ask the school’s admissions folks directly.

By going to this effort with your student, you’re teaching them to do the same thing, both now and when they arrive at collegeEven now, your kid will get a “lay of the land” when it comes to church at this particular school. You’ll both learn what different church experiences might look like. And you’ll be practicing the process of finding a church that fits your student’s needs and your family’s beliefs.

2. Drive by Churches When You’re There

Since you’ve already learned about some churches online, why not drive by a church building or two? Check out how close each church is to the campus, at the very least. Some churches might make it easy for your kid to imagine themselves attending. If the church is open, you might even see if you can look around.

A drive-by adds brick-and-mortar to the theoretical concept of “going to church in college.” Again, the key here is helping your student see church as something to plan on… and maybe even something that he or she will think about as they’re choosing the college they’ll attend.

3. Chat with a College Minister or Other Church Leader

You’ve come all this way to visit, and who knows if you’ll be back? Why not maximize your opportunity by setting up a chat with a college minister or other church pastor? Not only will they be able to fill you in on their church, but the good ones should be able to recommend other churches worth considering. What’s more, they can also answer questions about the campus, just like any “campus representative” – with the mindset of a believer (who may be a little more objective than someone employed by the school!).

We’ve written before that “interviewing” various college representatives helps a student understand the college search process better, regardless of where they end up. In the same way, sitting down with ministers in different towns will help you and your student understand “spiritual life in college” better – regardless of the final school choice.

4. Stay for Church

While it may be the trickiest from a schedule perspective, I also think the three notions above pale in comparison to the impact of actually attending church when you visit a campus. This is your best chance to show that church really matters to your family. It’s also the best way to start considering church as one factor in the final college decision. And if this particular campus becomes your kid’s choice, they’ll already have a headstart on finding the church for them. (That’s no small thing.)

Of course, several great churches might serve collegians in a city. But visiting even one could be a great “win” for your campus visit, whether it helps identify a future “church home away from home” or allows your son or daughter to cross it off their list! Either way, they’re moving from “deciding whether to attend church” to “deciding which church to attend.” Win!

What’s more, the very act of attending church in a collegiate setting will help your kid start to imagine that experience. So even on a visit to a “long-shot” school, by attending church you’ll build your college-bound kid’s understanding of the spiritual side of campus life.

Because It Really Matters

As you plan a campus visit with your student, you’re going to prioritize several things: a campus tour, a visit with an academic department, perhaps checking in with financial aid or watching a football game or observing the “college scene” near campus. A College Prep Parent who prioritizes church – right alongside these other things – is much more likely to have a kid who does the same. Whether you make the trip with your student or not, church can be a great part of the visit.

Like I wrote above, the importance of church probably isn’t something I need to convince you of, College Prep Parent! But now you know how to “make church matter” on a campus visit!

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