Along the way, in the midst of your well-planned and flawlessly executed youth ministry programs, you are going to notice one or two, or more, familiar faces lurking at the fringe of the activity. They have expectant looks. They are bursting with news about life away from the Home Town. And they have a bit of longing in their eyes as they watch the newest crew of seniors take on and manage the tasks that were theirs just a few months ago.
Are you ready for them?
These up-and-coming young Christians are looking for more than a quick hug and welcome back small talk. The way you effectively embrace their presence speaks volumes about what undergirds your entire youth ministry program.
Youth ministry serves as a bridge that connects believers from the spiritual milk of childhood to the spiritual meat of adult faith. Don’t abandon young adults before their feet have a chance to hit the ground! Many of the BEST intentioned youth workers often miss these few short, important Christmas-break weeks with perhaps the most dynamically changing population of the Church because we have immersed ourselves in the hectic pace of Christmas programs and activities designed for those we see all year.
Young adults don’t always make it home over the summer, but typically holidays bring them back in droves. Consider making a few significant adjustments to your youth ministry focus this Christmas, and see what results from a fresh focus on young adults. Here are some ideas that we have found to work well when reconnecting with our “former” high school youth:
1. RECRUIT These weeks provide a chance to define and recruit young adults into roles for service within the congregation over the summer months. Spend time refining the interests and energies of your returning young adults and work with the congregation to make a place for these valuable members.
2. LISTEN AND UPLIFT as you did when they were in senior high, but with a new maturity to the thought process and conversation. You have the opportunity to be a listening ear as young adults relate their new and oftentimes challenging experiences at away-from-home. Be intentional in your conversations. Consider developing a few well-thought questions to ask. Pause and take time when you run into your young adults. Make the most of the chance to do more than offer a casual “Hi! Merry Christmas! Good to see you!” as you run down the hall to some other important task.
3. BE THE BRIDGE Invite young adults to attend (for lack of a better word) “adult” activities in the congregation with you. Help make the bridge a comfortable passage into new activities like Adult Sunday morning bible class options, choir, and beyond.
4. RECONNECT Keep your PDA with you and update the contact information of each young adult you encounter! The reality is, most youth workers “run into” their young adults on the fly. They won’t all be waiting in one spot. Be ready wherever you are around town this December.
5. DIALOGUE Experience a new level of interaction and relationship through conversation. Provide a simple evening of games, pizza, and conversation just for the young adults of your congregation. (If you are married, or can arrange to have other adults involved for the entire evening and are comfortable with the interaction, consider inviting the young adults to enjoy this evening as a guest in your home.) This should be very simple, low-key, and laid back. The focus here is on reconnecting and dialogue.
6. INVITE FEEDBACK Encourage opportunities for intentional feedback about what worked and what could have been stronger in their high school youth ministry experience. Encourage them to discuss how the youth ministry program did or did not prepare them for their experiences in college. Listen closely!
7. WELCOME THEM to all events. If your young adults appear at a senior high event, do not allow them to either feel out of place OR simply assume the role they previously played. For instance, young women who attend GIRLS Bible study at Immanuel (and we often have young adult women who attend; the Bible study was a positive experience for them in high school and they love the feeling of coming back) are asked to lead small group activities and assist with prayer. Give them a new sense of what it means to be a mentor and provide opportunities for them to do so.
8. LIFT UP CHRIST Whatever your approach, you must give significant time to reinforcing their ONE relationship: ask them how things are with their Heavenly Father. After all, their relationships with EVERYONE else have changed dramatically now that they are “away”…Christ is, as always, the ONE who remains.
Whether your young adults are college track, in the work force, in the military, or attending junior college right at home, these ideas can work complete the bridge from youth to adult. Not only can they help young adults appreciate and define their place as active adult contributors to the congregation, if implemented well these ideas can educate others about the vibrancy, energy, and maturing talents these sons and daughters of the congregation have to offer beyond youth group.
Many youth workers lament the lack of resources and time that exist to help them develop thriving young adult ministry. But there are many simple things youth leaders, pastors, and other members of the congregation can do to extend a sense of belonging and relationship to young adults. Start simply.
The upcoming weeks provide an outstanding opportunity to reconnect and nurture your young adults. The lyrics of the song illustrate it well: “I’ll be home for Christmas, you can COUNT on me.” Be ready. Refocus your efforts and prepare for the young hearts you have served so diligently through the last years. A hug and a hello are nice, but just to start. There is still more work to be done…
This article was originally published on thESource in December 2004.