During my few years in college ministry I’ve quickly learned the importance of developing a strong community within the different groups of students my wife and I have worked with. We’ve seen the most students reached and effectively discipled when we have intentionally emphasized learning and growing in our spiritual walks together.

It makes sense. When we look at the New Testament, Jesus modeled it with His disciples as He took time to eat and travel with them. We can even see many accounts when Jesus would step away from the crowds and then proceed to explain one His parables to them in depth. They gained something special from being close to Jesus and they followed the same model when the first church began in the book of Acts. Acts chapter 2 recounts for us how close the first church was and that they even met together daily.

While students are in college they have more of an opportunity to fellowship regularly than any other time in life. So, what are some ways to encourage community?

Transparency and Honesty

The first meeting I held as a campus minister, I sat around a circle with a few students I hardly knew and shared my testimony. I made sure to highlight both the good and the bad and took the chance to get real with them. Unbeknownst to me, this would set the tone for our culture as a ministry. People quickly realized that they wouldn’t be judged for being themselves. Over the next few weeks students began to share about their struggles and ask each other for prayer and support.

Without doing anything special, my openness had communicated to them that this was a safe place. As they began to open up about their issues we saw students begin to find freedom, grow in their relationships with God, and take on a passion to reach others on campus.

Each week students were bringing new friends, both saved and unsaved, and as we welcomed them they continued coming. By the spring semester we were maxing out our meeting room for the second time and had many new believers. Sometimes the story of what God has done in your life is better than any message you can preach.

Shared Experiences

Each semester our ministry holds a conference to bring together hundreds of students for a weekend of powerful worship and teaching. As a student in college these times were life changing. It wasn’t just the worship and teaching that brought me closer to God, but also the relationships that were cultivated as I shared with others in what God was doing.

After those weekends came to an end I had deeper Christian friendships, people to provide encouragement and accountability, and plenty of inside jokes. This was another opportunity to open our lives one to another and as we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable God transformed lives.

James chapter 5 talks about the power that comes through confession and prayer. Confession isn’t something to be afraid of, but rather to promote as a healthy act in drawing us nearer to God. Time and time again I’ve seen shared experiences serve as a gateway for people to get real and begin the process of confession and repentance.

Don’t Lose Focus

It seems like we focus on community when our ministries are small and it’s easier, but it is important to continue cultivating strong community as your ministry grows. Give your students regularly scheduled times to get to know you and each other better. Remember, Jesus’ time spent in fellowship with His disciples laid the foundation for the Gospel message to reach the world.

Chris Zeigler is the assistant director of BASIC College Ministries, a church-based campus ministry in the Northeast U.S. He is also the author of Concepts for Campuses, a blog for campus ministers and student leaders. He and his wife have helped start ministries on 3 campuses in NY and currently reside with their daughter in Lima, NY.