Take your time searching for the right church; find one that suits your needs.
College life brings with it new friends, new experiences, and new places to call home. However, you should not allow the novelty and excitement of starting college to distract you from attending church and keeping up with any other faith-based practices and activities. Though your new church will reside in a different building with different people, it still gives you the same benefits you enjoyed back home: social events and support, personal development, and a chance to help your community. It can also serve as a stabilizing force during your transition to college life and throughout your college experience.
Those new to town who know only a handful of people often find it hard to find a church that welcomes them and feels like home. Recognize that it will take a little research, patience, and an open mind, but that you will eventually find the right church for you.
The Hunt for a New Church
Take your time searching for the right church; find one that suits your needs. Start your search early in your initial semester. Remember that the first couple of weeks in school are easier than the last few weeks. By the end of the term, final projects and exams may overwhelm you so much that looking for a new church may seem impossible.
Below, you will find advice for finding a new church, including suggested steps for the church-hunting process. Although these steps follow no particular order, first identifying your needs may illuminate the rest of your priorities. In addition, some steps in this list may benefit you more than others. For instance, you might not land one-on-one time to talk to church leaders, but you can chat with church members, community members, or fellow college students.
Identify Your Needs
When looking for a church in college, first identify your needs. Make a list of what you desire from a church, and let it guide you in your decision-making process. Consider these factors in your list: denomination, size, worship style, pastoral leadership, opportunities for college students, and distance from campus.
When in doubt, ask around for good church recommendations. If involved in a student club or organization, ask members where they go to church or attend Bible study. Word-of-mouth recommendations may prove the fastest and easiest way to find a church; and, if it works out, you already know at least one person at your new church.
Visit Different Churches
Often, students "church hop" before deciding on a place of worship. Friends may ask you to join them at church in hopes that you will become a member. Remember to keep an open mind while visiting different churches, but also remember to listen to your heart. The pressure to join a church can prove tough to ignore, but make it a priority to go wherever you feel the most comfortable.
Talk to Members
When visiting churches, talk to the members who attend regularly, inquiring about their experiences. Depending on your list of needs, you may want to ask members about volunteer service, spiritual counseling, social activities, religious studies, and other offerings at the church. If you can, speak with church members close to your age so that you can get a better idea of whether the church caters to college students.
Meet the Leaders of the Church
While looking for a church to attend, meet and talk with church leaders. Ideally, you should relate to church leaders, who should be approachable and easy to talk to. If you cannot interact comfortably with them, you may feel disconnected to the church. In this instance, visit other churches to find a better fit.
Browse Church Websites
A church's website introduces its beliefs, mission, history, and pastor's backstory. Reflect on whether this information fits with your religious philosophy. Sometimes you can flip through online photo galleries to determine whether this church community works for you.
What Should You Look for in a Church?
When searching for a church, consider more than location and services. In college, choosing a church becomes a personal decision. You get to decide for yourself which church you want to join -- without influence from your parents, friends, or other family members. You might even find yourself attending a church of a different denomination than the one in which you grew up. Read on to learn which factors you should think about when looking for a new church.
Look for a Church Close to Campus or Home
When searching for a church in college, consider the advantages of staying close to campus or your home. If you stray too far from school or home, going to church may end up feeling like a burden and you may not go as often. When you need spiritual advice or a quiet place to pray, staying in close proximity proves advantageous. This can prove an especially important factor if you do not own a car and rely on alternative transportation.
Find a Church That Caters to College Students
While searching for a church in college, look for places that cater to college students and offer plenty of opportunities for students to flourish within the church. The church need not be on campus or associated with your college, but it does help to see young, college-age members like yourself in the congregation. Your college church should feel like a home away from home.
Look for Diversity in Your Church
Going to college can feel like living in a bubble, where you might seem connected to your campus but not your community at large. Joining a church with diversity can help you improve your church experience. After all, spiritual growth often involves expanding one's horizons. Attending a diverse church allows you to meet people of different histories, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds. If you want to serve others, you can learn about various ways to help your community by connecting with people with different perspectives.
Find a Healthy Church Community
Look for churches with a lively community by asking two questions. Do churchgoers simply attend the Sunday service and then leave? Or do they participate in church groups or events? Maybe some parishioners form community clubs or host small group activities. Perhaps the church needs volunteers to teach Sunday school or decorate for the holidays. Taking part in these extracurricular activities can help you feel more plugged into the church and a greater part of its community.
Explore Church Amenities
If you have special needs, ask whether the church accommodates them. Can you find wheelchair ramps or help for other physical disabilities? Perhaps the church offers amenities for congregants with mental and/or learning disabilities. Maybe it provides counseling for community members dealing with personal trauma. Parents with children also appreciate when churches offer daycare services during services. You might also want to find a church with ample parking space, a full-service kitchen, or security services.
Look for a Ministry That Appeals to You
If you want to participate in your church community, join a ministry. Individual ministries take charge of one aspect of the church, like teaching kids or helping couples through counseling. Ministries allow you to meet other congregants and make a difference in their lives. Check which churches around you offer ministry opportunities.
Women's ministries help female congregants strengthen their relationship with God and Scripture; men's ministries do the same for male churchgoers.
If you love working with kids, you might enjoy children's ministry, which teaches kids Bible stories and morals. Some children's ministries include Sunday school or daycare, while others offer several activities throughout the week.
Outdoor ministry involves connecting others with Christ through biblical activities like Christian retreats and outdoor camping. Outdoor ministry leaders teach spiritual transformation through rock climbing, backpacking, and mountaineering.
If you love art, music, or exercising creativity in other ways, join a creative ministry. These groups help congregants connect with Christ through methods other than sermons.
Couples Ministry & Couples Counseling
Churches often provide resources for couples, married or otherwise. Couples ministries aim to strengthen partnerships by guiding the participating parties through biblical teachings. Additionally, since it can seem hard to meet friends while in a serious relationship, couples can connect with likeminded people through couple's ministries.
Contrary to popular belief, singles ministries do not function as dating groups. Rather, a singles ministry helps people without partners tackle life through a biblical perspective; ministers may help non-married people handle handle crises or work through divorces or breakups.
Missions ministries involve transforming communities that need help in the spirit of compassion and giving. Guided by Christian principles, these ministries often raise money and resources for people in need; they may even travel to different cities or countries to help in person.
Deciding on Your New Church
After mulling over these considerations, you should choose a church to join. Make sure to consider several churches, actually attending services and meeting the congregants. Ask the churchgoers what they like about their community. Most importantly, you should pray. Deciding on a church does not amount to an easy task, so turning to the Bible and prayer certainly cannot hurt.