Going away to college for the first time or even simply transferring, comes the excitement of exploring a new city! You get to find your new favorite coffee shops, restaurants, and hang-out spots. However, moving to a new city means finding a new church. This can be an intimidating process, especially if it has been a while since you’ve had to try to find a church. I had been very involved in my home church for several years and was worried about finding a church where I would feel like I could belong. Here are a few tips I learned from my own experience.
Remember, God is for you in this! God wants you in His community! He is not trying to make it difficult for you to find a church. Pray that God would guide you in this process. Also, pray that He will help you not hyperfocus on your preferences or comparisons. Let Him open your heart to a new community that will likely be different than what you are used to.
Make it a priority.
One thing I did not expect in college was having such a busy schedule so quickly, even on the weekends. Between classes, homework, clubs, service projects, a job, campus events, friends, etc., it can be tempting to not add anything else on the schedule. However, with college being such a busy and formative time of your life, having a solid church community can help keep you grounded in your faith, identity in Christ, and values as you navigate all that comes with this phase of life. The reality is that there probably won’t be a time when things slow down and going to church is convenient. So, plan it in your schedule for the start, and don’t wait to be fully acclimated to start checking out churches. You may not feel fully acclimated for a while! Make it a goal to visit a church within your first month of being in a new city!
Do your research!
The good news is that you do not have to wait until you arrive on campus to start your search for a church. Most churches present a lot about themselves online. This means, you can spend some time beforehand narrowing down the ones you want to check out in person. Look at their social media to see what kind of events and projects are important to the church. Visit their website to see what they believe and what kind of small groups they have. See if there are any sermons they have online you can listen to. This way, you don’t have to worry about it taking quite as long to choose where you want to get plugged in.
Ask an upper classman or Christian organization
Maybe you’ll meet a friend who is a Christian and already attends a church in the area. One great way to meet other Christians on campus is by joining a campus ministry/Bible study. Most public colleges have campus ministries such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Cru, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and Chi Alpha just to name a few. Chances are, the upper classmen in these ministries can recommend some great churches in the area that are welcoming to college students. You may even get to tag along with one of them to church and have them introduce you to some of the pastors or other church members. This helps to cut out the intimidating aspect of checking out somewhere alone or not having anyone to sit with.
Try more than ONE & try more than
If you find the church you want to attend during your first visit, this is totally fine! However, if you end up needing to check out more than one before you find the right fit, that’s okay too! Remember, doing your research will help narrow it down so this process does not take as long. With this, though I recommend visiting a church more than once if you are undecided. The exception with this, of course, is if there is something that is clearly unbiblical about a church you checked out. Maybe you did not meet anyone you connected with your first visit, maybe you found yourself missing your pastor’s preaching style during the sermon, or maybe they did not sing any songs you knew during worship. Visit again! First impressions are important to most churches, but even if they do their best to welcome first-time visitors, there is only so much that you can experience in an hour-long service.
Choose how to get involved!
One way to hold yourself accountable to making church a priority is to get involved in the church that you choose. Now, this may look different than how it did before you were in college, as your schedule is different. You may not be able to serve in as many different areas, be in multiple small groups, or come to as many church events. Thus, pray and narrow down how you would like to use your gifts to serve. It’s okay if it changes from time to time but start somewhere! Plus, if you become involved in a small group or college group, you will have opportunities to make friends that share your same faith as you navigate college life. The good news is that many churches that are in college towns offer ministries/groups specifically geared toward college students.
Accept that it won’t be the same
Maybe, like me, you will find yourself missing your home church when you are in your college town. Just remember that attending a church in college does not mean you are no longer a part of your home church. That church was a part of helping you grow in your faith, and you may have opportunities to visit or be involved on your breaks. The beautiful thing is that, ultimately, we are all a part of the same family! Think of it as simply growing your family, rather than changing your family. When God has you in a different city, you can find the people to do life with and serve that area. Key to this is choosing to not get hung up on comparing everything to your home church. Maybe you want to make sure that the church offers similar things to your home church, but no two churches are identical. It is not fair to try to find a replica of your church, pastor, worship team, or friends. So, attend a new church with the open mind that God has appointed certain pastors to lead in certain cities and that God speaks to more than just the Christians you have met thus far. Allow yourself to search for ways you see God moving in the church, rather than searching for differences.
Finally, have fun! How exciting is it that you get to meet more of the family of God and partner with how they are representing Jesus in your new city? No church is perfect because churches are made up of people! However, the goal is to find a community where you can continue to stay rooted, grow in your faith, and serve others. You grow and learn in so many other ways in college, so why not also make growing in your relationship with Christ a priority? When you look back on your college years, you will find yourself grateful for the church family that walked with you through those years!
Author: Rebecca Clark, Biblical Studies Intern