When I arrived on my DCE internship at First Trinity in Tonawanda, NY, in 2010, the only ministry we had at the time to young adults was that one woman would sit down 3-4 times a year and write a note to each college student. This ministry has morphed over time, and thankfully we do have many more elements of ministry with this age group, but the cards and prayers remain a key piece of our college ministry. I received this text recently from one of my college students is an example of why:
“I didn’t really know Carl, but I did appreciate his cards. They came always when I needed them most. I wouldn’t recognize his name or face, but the fact that he would know mine means a lot to me.”
I recently called Josh to tell him that Carl had died. As Josh’s prayer partner, Carl had committed not only to pray for Josh but send him cards each month through the school year. Josh was texting me the above while asking what time the funeral was going to be; he wanted to try to move his work schedule around to be there, despite not really knowing the man. A few days later another young man showed up to help set up the tables for the very large funeral lunch. When another staff member thanked him for coming he said, “I felt like I should be here; did you know he was my prayer partner one year in college?” This is one of many examples where we have seen the simple act of someone sending some cards has had a huge impact on young men and women connected with our church.
This card ministry has taken on many forms since its beginning before I joined the staff. However, in its current state, here is how we run our program:
- UPDATE STUDENT INFORMATION:
Volunteers and I spend the summer and early fall trying to update all the college addresses, estimated dates of graduation, majors, etc. for our students. This actually is the hardest step but once you’re done with this it’s pretty easy. We do this through direct contact with students as well as through emails and phone calls to parents. Sometimes addresses aren’t known until the student actually arrives at school.
- CREATE PRAYER PARTNER PACKETS:
A few years ago we switched to a model that matched each student with an individual or family who committed to pray for them and send 8 cards throughout the year. In this process we began brainstorming ways to make it as easy as possible for a prayer partner to actually get the cards sent. What we landed on was making a packet with EVERYTHING an individual would need to send the cards. So we purchased cards in bulk in July for each month and created packets with 8 cards, 8 stamps, the dates on which to send the cards, and a guide that explains everything. We make these packets, put the students name, school, address, birthdate, and any other information we have (major, estimated date of graduation, prayer requests, etc.) on a sticker on the outside.
- SIGN UPS:
As people sign up, we give them a packet with all they need, do a quick 1-minute “training” of what is inside, and send them on their way! We’ve had little kids and homebound members, individuals, and families all participate. Time and time again we are thanked for how easy we made it for them to succeed with the use of the packets.
- ONGOING SUPPORT:
When people sign-up, I ask them to provide an email address. We use this to send out a quick reminder around the time each card is supposed to be sent out, but also use it as an encouragement to them. Sometimes we share ideas of what to write (e.g. letting people know that it’s midterm time and maybe they could provide a Bible verse that has been comforting to them in stressful times). Often only a few of the students actually find time to write back to their prayer partners, so if we do hear of a student that did, I try to use those emails as a space to share some of those stories so that partners who don’t hear much or anything can be encouraged that even if they don’t hear from the student, their cards are still important!
That’s about it. We repeat the process every year, adding our freshmen and taking off those who have graduated. I have provided examples of the initial letter we give to the prayer partners, a note we ask them to put in their first card (so that students aren’t left wondering who this random, perhaps even creepy person they’ve never met is that is all of the sudden sending them cards every month), and a template spreadsheet we use for keeping information. Feel free to adapt and use these as you see helpful for your church or let me know if there are other ways we can help!
We have found this ministry to be a simple, yet high impact opportunity that almost anyone can get involved in. Through these relationships and notes, we are able to communicate with each student, whether they go away to school or stay local, that we care about them, haven’t forgotten about them, are praying for them, and most of all that God loves them!
- We often purchase our cards on Dayspring.com. (Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas cards are typically pretty cheap on clearance in August!) We’re able to buy them in bulk and get good deals. Sometimes we find it necessary to buy different cards for males and females especially if you use some of the “note card” style. Sign up for their email list and get coupon codes. There’s typically at least one each summer with 25% off you’re entire purchase.
- For everything it typically costs us around $6-8/packet to make. (We aim for $.25-.50/card plus $.49/stamp) We have been blessed to be able to include these costs in our church budget, but I’m sure most people would be more than willing to also cover the $5-10 cost of each packet.
- We also put together small finals care packages each April. We do this as a church rather than asking each prayer partner to do it as a way to make sure every student is getting the same thing. Some ideas of things we’ve included: healthy snacks, redbox coupon codes, music coupon codes, short devotional thoughts, etc. We typically spend about $5 on each box when we buy stuff in bulk plus shipping costs. These costs are often covered through donations from the congregation. One year we did it as a youth service project.
- When we start the process over again each year, I often offer the chance for prayer partners to stick with their student from last year if they created a relationship there, or let them pick a new student if they prefer.
- We’ve also partnered this ministry with other events. For example, one year during Christmas break we invited all the college students as well as all the prayer partners to share lunch together after church one day. Even if their student/prayer partner wasn’t there as a group, it was great to see all the different generations connecting in person and for the students to know there is a huge group of people who care for them.
Customize the following to fit your needs and your church: