Today I will share my first five tips for surviving your freshman year of college. Class of 2016, this is for you. (Also, I am having another College Q&A Day soon, so leave your questions in the comments below.)
For those of you who will be attending a private Christian university, finding Christian friends should be less of an issue, but for those of you who are going to attend a huge university like mine, the idea of finding like-minded Christian friends can seem daunting.
As overwhelmed and shy as you might be feeling, you'll need to work hard to get involved. If you attend a big secular school, you are the minority. You're going to have to actively seek out on-fire Christians. And guess what? The other Christian freshmen are feeling just as scared as you are.
So how will you find other Christians on-campus? At specifically Christian events.
Visit a church your first week of college. If there is a potluck or small groups right after the service, attend. If they let you sign up for a Bible study or life group right then and there, do it. The church can be the best way for you to get involved with the Christian community at your university.
Ask any upperclassmen you might know about Bible studies... and if you don't know anyone, check out Facebook. All campuses have some sort of Campus Crusade, InnerVarsity, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and church small groups that you could visit. The sooner you start to get involved, the sooner you will meet people.
Also, if there is any sort of Christian fish camp where you're going before school begins, attend that. No matter what. Texas A&M has Impact, Texas University has Ignite, and Texas State University has Rise, Southern Methodist University has CrossRoads, Texas Tech has Foundation, and University of Missouri has Rooted. These Christian retreats will help you to get involved with a group of Christians before you even start school. It's fantastic.
The more friendly and approachable you appear, the more people will feel comfortable talking to you. Be sure to wear a smile and open body language, even when you're feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. Stretch yourself socially. Get out of your comfort zone.
If you live in a dorm with a meal plan, challenge yourself to sit with someone new every meal. As terrifying as that may sound, people are actually very responsive to this and it's an easy way to make friends. I actually met a group of some of my best friends in college by asking to sit with them at their table. Don't hesitate to bring up your faith or ask about church and Bible studies. If they're a Christian, then great! If not, you can be a witness.
Use the opportunities around you to make friends. Talk to the person next to you on the bus, the person in the seat in front of you in class, the person waiting in line behind you to purchase books... The first few weeks of college are packed full of freshmen hoping to make friends. The more conversations you have, the more friends you'll make.
3.) Wear Christian t-shirts and symbols.
In a place where Christians are a minority, if you wear a Christian t-shirt, you'll stick out a little. I often wear simple things like a cross necklace or shirts with Bible verses or "Jesus Saves" written boldly across the front. Not only are these things conversation-starters, but other Christians will see them and identify with you.
I made the mistake of not settling into one church for the first month or two in college. I wanted to find a church that was just like mine... and that's not going to happen, not for me and not for you. No church will be as homey as the church where your family and friends attend. Look for a church with friendly and warm greeters, with an engaging pastor, with opportunities to serve and get involved, and with doctrine that matches up with yours.
No church will be perfect. Believe me. But if you search and search and search for the "right" one, all that will happen is you'll end up feeling disconnected and frustrated. If possible, try not to visit more than three or four churches over the course of a semester... and even that is pushing it. Find a church, stick with it, and commit to getting involved.
5.) Bring up Christ in conversation.
If you're searching for a group of like-minded Christian friends, you must be open about your faith. I challenge myself to bring up Christ in every single conversation I have, no matter who I'm talking to. In fact, I've ended up talking about Jesus to a professor in a student-teacher meeting. And it was great.
At times, I'll be sitting with someone new at lunch and I'm not sure if they're a Christian or not. They seem nice, but it's hard to tell what they believe. So I'll bring up my faith. "Yeah, the message at church on Sunday was..." or "Did you go to Breakaway (a huge student Bible Study) last week?" or "Hey, what church do you go to?" If they're not a Christian, they'll usually shrug it off and either ask me a couple of questions about what I believe or change the subject. If they are a Christian, they'll usually start smiling and a connection is made.
Bring up Christ.
And be sure to start praying for the Christian friends you'll make, right now. God will be there with you, so be sure to ask Him to work on the hearts of the kids who will be your friends next year.
If I could sum all of this up into one piece of advice, I would say: get involved. It takes a while to make friends, but the best way to do so is to get involved in organizations and stick with them, even if you feel awkward and shy. The more you get involved, the more people you'll meet and the more friends you'll make.
You can do this.