Having a break is absolutely wonderful and completely necessary. We tend to be very busy people, constantly filling our schedule with things to do, ways to make money, people to hang out with, and of course, food to eat. This is especially true of young adults; and we should remember this when reaching out to college students in the context of our Church community. For the past four months, these young adults have been filling their schedules past maximum capacity. They know when they have time to eat, to catch up with their best friend, and to watch the latest episode of their favorite TV show on Netflix. They know when their Catholic campus ministry is hosting a fun event.
These schedules only work at their school, where the entire campus has the exact same concept of time. So when they have a month off to return home and celebrate Christmas with their family and hometown friends, their routines dissolve. Daily Mass times are not in the late afternoon, Bible studies aren’t full of college students experiencing similar hardships and struggles, there are no free dinners or speakers each week, no praise and worship nights. Reaching out to college students to encourage them in the Faith, then, can be a bit of a grassroots movement.
Reaching Out to College Students in Love During Their Christmas Break
While these young adults have been away at college, some have deepened their relationship with Christ, while others have turned away from the Catholic Church entirely. Most colleges will have a student center where students can meet other Catholics and get involved in events and small groups. The reality is, very few parishes have a young adult group where 18-30 year olds can meet each week and actively engage their Faith. While these students may only be home for Christmas for a month, these same students will most likely be back for the long summer break. If they don’t have an opportunity to come home to a group like one that has been available to them on campus, it can be more difficult for them to either genuinely encounter or deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.
So you may be asking, as an established parishioner, what can I do to help? While these students may only be around for a short period of time during the winter break session, there is something impactful you can do. You can INVITE!
- End or Evangelize
Say hello! Your name is a big part of who you are. Pope St. John Paul II said:
Man who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.
Offering your name from the get-go creates an intimacy and familiarity – both great foundations for an influential conversation.
Now that you have told them your name, ask them for their name. Commit their name to memory. Nothing makes a person feel more welcome than when they walk into a room and are welcomed by the sound of their own name. Try to use their name in the conversation as much as possible, without overusing it. If their name escapes you as the conversation continues, don’t be afraid to ask them for it once again, as well as reinforcing your own:
One more time, your name was…? Thanks. I’m Maggie!
Value (them as a person)
It is so important to view each person as a child of God. We are each a unique creation who has a story and a divine purpose. We can show how we value others by listening with our undivided attention. Make sure that you put your phone away or that you aren’t in a rush during conversation.
When reaching out to college students, find out what they love to do. Don’t just ask about what they’re studying, but why they are pursuing that major. Are they involved in a club or on a sports team? How do they spend their free time? What do they love most about the university’s town or city? Try to avoid the typical questions every student is asked (What is your major? How is school? What do you want to do when you graduate?). They hear these questions very often both in and out of school, and they can get very old to answer. Mix it up!
This is all about family! You might know their family if they have been a part of your parish for years. If not, ask to meet them. Not only are you learning more about the person, but you’re also getting to know even more people in your community.
End or Evangelize
This is where you determine how the conversation has been going. If it is challenging for you to keep the dialogue going, wrap up the conversation and maybe extend a small invitation to an event or group meeting. Know that it is OK to end a conversation. Not all of them will be smooth.
Now if the conversation is going well, keep it going! Ask if you can have their number and try to meet up later during the week for a cup of coffee. You can even invite them to your house for a meal. Let them know about the daily Mass schedule, or if you are part of a small group Bible study. Invite them to be a part of your life! If you’re feeling ambitious, you can talk to your parish about starting up a young adult group or even a young adult Bible study. There are many resources to help you get started like Blessed Conversations and FOCUS.
Be Not Afraid!
It may seem like a small step to talk to people after Mass or to get to know a new face at a small event, but the invitation is important. To be able to go deeper in conversation with others, we first must get to know them and share our lives with them. Just as St. Paul says in his letter to the Thessalonians:
So being affectionally desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thes 2:8).
Using the INVITE method when reaching out to college students helps us give ourselves to those we meet, and when we become a gift of self, not only do we allow for others to feel more welcome, but also shows them that we see them and care for them as our sisters in Christ.
Take a step out of your comfort zone and invite these students into your parish, small groups, your own life, and ultimately, the life of Christ.
How can you do a better job of reaching out to college students during the holidays? Let’s share ideas in the comments below!
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Maggie Grevas is a FOCUS missionary currently serving at Valparaiso University with her loving husband and adorable baby girl. Originally from the mountains of Virginia, you can find her spending all her free time doing anything outdoors with a smile on her face and coffee in hand. You can learn more about her here.