My senior year of college, I moved into an apartment with three new roommates. We were all involved in the Baptist Collegiate Ministry and knew one another, but weren’t super close. After about two days, though, we realized we had something special—and it needed a name.

Thus, the Bumpass Belles were born.

We had nicknames. We had special rituals, lingo, and inside jokes. Did we have a secret handshake, you ask? Nah. Handshakes are too mainstream. The Belles had a dance.

Besides the funny (which was abundant), the Belles loved one another. We prayed for one another. We shared in each other’s secrets. Nine years later, they are still some of my best friends. My year with the Belles was one of the most meaningful experiences with community I’ve ever had.

In the years since my time with the Belles, I’ve been serving college students. Helping them find community is critical to a college student’s faith walk. I wish I could pinpoint what it was that made the Belles such great roommates and friends, but community is mysterious; it happens on its own.

It doesn’t always make sense.

You can’t program community. But you can, however, create an environment that encourages Biblical community and gives women the push they need to seek and begin building community on their own.

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Here are some essentials to building community I’ve discovered in my work with collegiates:

  1. Connection. How can you help them connect with each other? Coffee? Crafts? A love of tye-dyeing t-shirts? (That last one’s for the other collegiate ministers out there.)

  1. Prayer. Help the women in your ministry find a prayer partner or small prayer group. Meet together, share concerns with one another and pray, right then, out loud. If something comes up during the week, text one another for more prayer covering. This is huge.

  1. Authenticity. It’s encouraging and life-giving to spend time with women who are honest about the realities of life—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Nothing forges a connection quicker than the words, “I struggle with that, too.” To see another woman’s imperfection is to say, “Maybe it’s ok that I’m not perfect, either.”

  1. Exclusivity. (Not like in the movie Mean Girls.) If women feel they are a part of something special and will be missed if they’re absent, it builds a sense of ownership and belonging. And ideally, they will want to make other women feel the same way.

  1. Commitment. Knowing there are women who are committed to sticking with you regardless of drama, differences, and bad days is both beautiful and powerful.

  2. Grace. Community is messy because people are imperfect (see #3). Sometimes our imperfections bump into each other and grace is needed to smooth things over, like rich beeswax lip gloss on a cold, dry day. When we extend grace we are not just building community for the sake of building community. We are building the Kingdom and offering the hope and love of Christ to a world that so desperately needs it.

Corley Madden is an assistant director at the Conway Baptist Collegiate Ministry. She loves calling women of all ages to discipleship relationships and enjoys getting to put that passion into practice as she loves on the girls of the BCM. You can read more from Corley at her blog, Barnabelle: Daughter of Encouragement, or on Twitter @corleycline.

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