Dear Pastor: Why College Students Need You (And How To Connect With Them)

  • by Nick DeCola

It’s easy to believe that students aren’t really interested in church or spiritual things.

Yet 2 Orlando area pastors, in partnership with Cru, are finding just the opposite.  

Both Red Winderweedle and Adam Parsons pastor churches within a few miles of Full Sail University, a specialized school offering majors in entertainment, media, arts and technology. When each learned about Cru’s collegiate outreach they realized they had a potential ministry partner who shared the same vision for reaching people.

“I really saw the similarity (with Cru) in purpose and vision,” said Red. “Being a younger ministry, it’s always nice to be involved with others who have more tools and experience.”

In fact, Red was so committed to partnering and using his own time and resources wisely he discontinued a student Bible study on Sunday night’s when he realized it conflicted with a Cru group.  

“We’ve realized we don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Red said. “Cru came to our church to do training for us as well as shared their resources freely.”

Steve Rivera, a volunteer who serves in the ministry at Full Sail, says that students are especially open to interacting with a pastor who is sensitive to their unique challenges. “Having Pastor Red work with us has been a huge dynamic,” said Steve. “I still see a certain level of respect for pastors. He has the ability to connect with a student on a spiritual level faster because he is a pastor.”

While on campus one recent Friday afternoon, Red was packing up materials and food that they offer to students during their lunch break when 3 students walked by the table. One of them came back to talk to Red, and found out he was a pastor. The student confessed that two days earlier, he didn’t know whether he wanted to live or not. A lengthy conversation ensued ending with the student weeping as Red put his arm around him and prayed.

“We see the loneliness and depression in the midst of these students,” Red says. “I can relate to that since loneliness, isolation and rejection were all part of my life.”   

Red finds that the vast majority of students, as many as 90% in his experience, have attended church at one time in their life. He believes that he as a pastor, and the church in general, can use this as leverage to woo students back to Christ.

Adam Parsons is another pastor who has learned about Cru’s desire to partner with churches to reach students. He takes seriously Christ’s mandate to reach his Jerusalem of which Full Sail is a part.  

He worked with Cru to secure patio space on campus and his church simply offered to buy pizza for students in the context of getting to know them. Church members helped pass out flyers and directed students to the free food. They fed about 150 students during one recent outreach, and conversations often turned to spiritual things.  

“It worked really well,” said Adam. “We were able to connect with them about what understanding what life is all about. We have a lot of life experience and they responded to us because we were not judgmental but wanted to get to know them.”

Jeff Grant, a Cru leader specializing in forging partnerships in ministry between Cru and the church, sees a powerful but largely untapped synergy. “These are local, indigenous missionaries,” Jeff says of church leaders. “They have the vision and maturity. We can offer know-how, strategies and resources.”

It’s likely that your church is in close proximity to some type of university or college. If so, it may not be difficult or time consuming to reach students. Here are some potential next steps for both pastors and church lay leaders:

Start Small. Red and the Cru group at Full Sail offer bottled water, candy bars and chips available during high traffic times at a table with a sign that simply asks, “Need to talk?” They have resources like Soularium to help start conversations.

Adam says, “It’s a game of patience and prayer. It’s about getting to know students individually.” Seek out coaching and ministry resources.  Contact studentlinc@cru.org for more information.

Let students help you reach students. They know the student world best – they are in it. Foster ideas, ask how you can best serve them in reaching their friends. Equip them to reach out in their sphere of influence. Learn more.

Adam asked a student who had trusted in Christ just months earlier what would work for her in reaching out to her friends. After listening to her, Adam and his wife sponsored little Friday night events for she and her friends. They had a blast and on occasion would present a short 10-15 minute talk on a topic that interested them.  

Look for ways to involve church members. Focused prayer can inspire vision and interest. Bring them along to help with logistics. Use their gifts, training and expertise. Adam knows one retired science professor who has a heart for students. He will offer a talent show and give a scholarships for the participants. It’s a way he can use his expertise and resources to reach out and mentor students. Learn more.

Look for ways students can be involved in the mission of the church. This can be a win-win as they can provide energy and enthusiasm and also be shaped as a long term laborer. 

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