Jeremy Dager on Helping College Students Plug Into the Life of a Church
Mercy Hill just recently turned four years old and is on the precipice of becoming a multi-site church. Jeremy leads the age-based ministry, which includes the kids, student, and college ministries.
Greensboro has several colleges in the area with thousands of college students. When the college students first started showing up at Mercy Hill, the church didn’t know exactly what to do for them in particular. They were coming to church, but they weren’t meaningfully becoming connected to the church. Jeremy realized he didn’t really know them and set out to change that. He is with us today to talk about serving college students and how to connect them to the church for both deep and wide growth.
- Keep it simple. // When the college students started coming to Mercy Hill, the church did what they thought was the expected thing, to hold an event focused on millennials. The church learned early on that they could put on a good show and open a door for the college students, however they needed to find a way to close the back door in order to keep those students from leaving. Mercy Hill prides themselves on being a simple church, so Jeremy knew they had to keep the college ministry simple. This meant slashing a lot of things, including the event for the college students. Mercy Hill’s mission is to make sure that the most important thing to the college students is the weekend gatherings and then working within the smaller groups to become connected in meaningful relationships.
- Be intentional. // The “if you build it, they will come” principle may work sometimes. Maybe they will come, but will they become meaningfully connected? Mercy Hill began to reevaluate how they were going about connecting the college students to the ministry. One student in particular came from a historically black college and was the only student from that school at Mercy Hill. They realized that they weren’t going to reach his campus just by holding big events. Instead, they focused on this one student they had and worked intentionally with him for 6-8 months. From that point, Mercy Hill has seen tremendous growth from that school. Intentionality also meant that the church needed a database. They were originally using Google docs to keep track of everyone, but then purchased Fellowship One. Using database software allowed the church to be super intentional about pastoral care toward students. Now Mercy Hill knew where college students were in the process of getting plugged into the church.
- Close the back door. // Mercy Hill Church did well bringing college students in the “front door” of the church, but they weren’t closing the back door well by helping students to plug into meaningful relationships. So they made a goal to see at least 70% of the college students at Mercy Hill connected in small groups. Getting plugged into groups would help keep students connected to the church as well as deepen their relationships with Christ. While Mercy Hill makes it clear that the Weekender event is the first step for anyone coming to the church, now college students can choose whether they want to be a part of a college specific group or a multi-generational group. Mercy Hill keeps the assimilation process simple in that they don’t create different steps for different people based on their age – whether you’re 19 or 69, it’s all streamlined together.
- Keep a long term view. – Some churches may not invest as much in college-aged ministries because it’s tough for them to know how to reach millennials and see the return on their investment. But Jeremy encourages church leaders that reaching out to college students not only has an immediate effect of plugging them into your church, but it’s investing in the next generation. Down the road there may be opportunities to build your staff with these young leaders. Furthermore he notes that, “College students have become an integral part of our church as young adults where they’re starting families, establishing themselves as leaders in the community, and now they are significant contributing members in our church.”
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Helpful Tech Tools // Fellowship One
Ministries Following // The Summit Church, Campus Outreach
Influential Book // The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath by Mark Buchanan, Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You by John Ortberg
Inspiring Leader // Bono
What does he do for fun // Hunting and fishing