Students move through your ministry constantly and at light speed. If you’re one of those brave souls that works with students all the way from middle school until graduation, that means that you have 364 weeks with them until they are gone. If you are strictly a high school pastor, you only have 208 weeks with them at best.
Once they step out of the bubble of youth ministry and into the real world their faith will be tested in all new ways. If they go to college, they will most likely experience pushback, discover other beliefs and even face persecution for their belief in Jesus. For many of our students, this is the very first time that they will really encounter those things. When it happened to me, I experienced my first, real crisis of faith, and while my story turned into one of being strengthened, those moments are where statistics say that so many leave the Church, and unfortunately their faith, all together. In order to prepare them for what is to come, time really is of the essence. In all of the ministry we do throughout the lives of our students, I believe there are two ways that we can really protect the faith of our seniors as they move into the next phase of their lives.
Moving towards Mobilization
This generation is a generation of doers. Never before have there been so many young people that want to step into the real-life application of God’s Word. They may not even recognize it in those terms, but millennials, for all of the negative stereotypes, are taking up so many causes, and fighting for so many ideologies that we have to come alongside that and speak into that mentality.
From the moment that a student steps into a student ministry, they should be shown how to turn their faith into action, and given the challenge to do so. When practical faith is the norm, then they are much more likely to continue that trend as they graduate. They will already be used to sharing their faith, volunteering in mission work, leading (or at least participating) in voluntary Bible studies and so on. I call this “mobilization.” The real win is when a student is ready to live an actively faithful lifestyle outside of the student ministry.
Setting them up for Success
Another way to help our students strengthen their faith as they leave our ministries is networking ahead of them. Hopefully, you know where they are heading after graduation. Sometimes this isn’t possible because THEY don’t even know where they are heading after graduation! However, for those who have a plan, connect with college ministries ahead of time on their behalf.
Much of why students walk away from the Church in college is not the singular decision that they don’t believe or don’t want to be obedient to Christ anymore, but a gradual decline as they flounder in their responsibility to plug into a new church or ministry on their own, away from home. If we can somehow create engagement with a church or ministry even before they move, then we can create an opportunity for them to plug in seamlessly.
Create your own ministry network with the pipeline schools and programs to which many of your students will be attending. Get to know the primary college pastors and parachurch ministries in each area and send them a list of names and numbers for the students that you are sending their way. In this scenario, everyone wins! When plugging in becomes easy, you have the peace of mind that they will be less likely to fall away from all that you’ve poured into them over the past 4-7 years, they will be encouraged by it, their parents will be happy as they have more confidence in their student continuing in their faithfulness and the college ministers will be happy because you are sending people into their ministries, win, win, win, win!
Prepare your students for launch, because our time with them is so short. Know that one day they will take the knowledge, tools and resources that you’ve given to them, and they will become faithful adult disciples.
Joseph Fowler has a passion for leading the next generation of the Church, and reaching those who are far from God. He’s a sports fanatic, outdoorsman, pop culture connoisseur, and gamer. Find Joseph on Twitter @THEJOSEPHFOWLER, FACEBOOK, and INSTAGRAM.