Should college students join a local church by campus if they have a church membership “back home”?

I'm often asked this question in reference to Christian students who are coming to college and have a church membership “back home.” Here are five things to consider that may help to answer.

1. Church membership should not be kept out of sentimental value.

At the church where I serve as an elder, we all sign a church covenant before joining. One of the things we agree to when we join the church is this: “We will, when we move from this place, as soon as possible, unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.” 

2. Church membership is meant to be meaningful.

A church gathers together, worships together, serves together, sits under God’s Word together. In other words, the local church follows Jesus together. Our church would not be doing anyone a favor to keep their church membership in our local church if they move away. How could they “do church” with us and carry out the commands of the Bible with us if they aren’t regularly with us? A college student shouldn’t keep their church membership “back home” simply because it’s a nice reminder of where they came from.

3. Where do you regularly gather?

At the core of being a part of a church is regularly gathering together to worship God. That’s what churches are—assemblies that regularly meet together. If you have a church membership back home and are now at a college campus, you need to consider where you are going to be on Sundays. If you moved from California to go to school in Washington D.C., it’s pretty clear you won’t be flying back each Sunday for church. Hebrews 10:25 points to the necessity of regularly meeting together in the local church. In other words, your membership should be with the church you regularly attend.  

4. Who is best positioned to keep watch over your soul?

It’s difficult for a Christian to keep the commands of Hebrews 13:17—“obey your leaders and submit to them”—if you move away. Put simply, how can leaders/pastors “keep watch over your soul” and “give an account” for someone who is no longer there? Bless your now-former leaders; bless those who have to give account by placing your membership at the church best positioned to shepherd you and keep watch over your soul.

5. College students should not be thought of as a “special case.”

Though college years are a unique season of life, college students shouldn’t think of themselves or be encouraged to think of themselves as some kind of special case. Though a student’s time at college is limited, four years is more than long enough to plug into a church. Living somewhere temporarily doesn’t negate the call to be in the fellowship of the local church. Rather than being viewed as special, college students should be viewed as normal and, thus, should be encouraged to do what Christians “normally” do: join a local church.  

Word to Pastors

You would do well to encourage your high school students and their parents to think through their church membership before they move off to college. Counsel them during their college selection process and campus visits to consider the presence of healthy churches in proximity to the campus. Help them think through visiting churches and making the decision of where to land. You certainly won’t be doing them or yourself any favor if you are attempting to keep watch over the soul of someone who isn’t regularly gathering with you.

I realize that there may be some exceptions, but I generally would recommend you encourage them to join a local church by their campus. If they move “back home” after graduating college, they can resign their membership at their local church by the campus and join your church again, if they so choose. It is a great service to students to help them live their college years in the fellowship of the local church.

Editors’ note: This article was originally published at 9Marks