by Lisa Birle and Jim Sonnenburg
For about two years we’ve wrestled with the idea of mentoring and how exactly to link college students with adults. College students might not even realize it, but the last thing they need is for more peers in their lives to influence them. Studies have even shown that many students who drift away from their faith as young adults often lacked intergenerational Christian relationships. We’ve tried to help students see the need for adults in their lives and help provide them with mentors. Along with that, we have always desired to find ways to build bridges with the rest of our church instead of keeping our students in an autonomous college ministry silo. Mentoring is something our ministry values, but we’ve had some trouble figuring out exactly how to make mentoring happen…
Here’s what we did: Periodically, we would announce at our midweek service about our mentoring program—that if students want mentors, we’ll help them connect with one. And who were our mentors, you might ask. Our mentors were adults who contacted our ministry expressing interest in serving college students. Both mentors and mentees would fill out applications so that Lisa and I could try to pair adults up with students. One question on the application included what life areas the student wanted mentoring in (relationships, finances, etc.) We based the mentoring relationships off of the areas a student sought mentoring in, with a mentor who listed areas they were comfortable mentoring in. We also tried to factor in personality and what we knew about both individuals. Yeah…it was like eHarmony on paper.
The problem: While this method did foster some great connections, we also had a lot of difficulty. 1) It was time consuming and the applications were about four pages long. 2) It was non-organic and kind of awkward pairing students up with folks they didn’t know. 3) It fed into a consumeristic mentality. Why were we enabling students to sit and wait for us to meet their need for a mentor instead of teaching them how to find one? 4) We’d often find ourselves with adult mentors waiting for months before we’d be able to pair them with students. This was not good use of the hearts and willingness of our adult volunteers.
What we are doing now: We are scrapping the mentoring program. Yep, you read that right. We now encourage adults who contact us about wanting to serve college students to host or lead a small group. Now that more adults are leading college-age small groups, instead of students, students are building relationships organically, and the mentoring process is beginning naturally through community. Secondly, we have created a brief document that’s really practical in showing a student how and where to look for a mentor (Visit the CM Store to download this document for free). Our goal is that after reading this document, they would begin the process of knowing how to search for mentors in their personal lives. Even though we no longer have a “program,” we are excited to empower students and help them understand their responsibility and role in seeking out adults in their lives and developing relationships with them.
A few weeks back we did a series on transitioning to adulthood called ‘Leaving Neverland’ (Visit the CM Store to download this vital 2 week series). When we brought up the topic of mentoring the challenge to our students looked different. We put the onus on them and provided the handout mentioned above to guide their search for mentors.
What have you learned in your context about mentoring and adult involvement in your ministry?
(The “Leaving Neverland” series, along with hundreds of other helpful documents, are included in our monthly subscription package. CLICK HERE to learn more)