We asked a few youth ministry workers some questions about college/young adult ministry and preparing youth for life after high school. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing their answers. If you missed last week’s installment, check out Part 1. Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comment section below!
How do you keep youth connected to the church after they graduate high school? What have you tried that has been most effective?
Jessica Bordeleau: Building a firm spiritual foundation that is established in high school and carries through the emerging adult years takes time, effort, and the investment of other adults in the congregation. The influence of parents is the most important factor, but according to sociologist, Dr. Christian Smith, the second most important factor is the influence of other adults in the congregation, like DCEs, youth leaders, and volunteers who invest time building lasting relationships with teens. He writes: “It is not only parents who matter in forming the religion of emerging adults. Other nonparental adults in the lives of youth are often also important and, in certain circumstances, can actually substitute for parents as formative influences in the lives of youth. These may be other family members…. They may be congregational youth ministers or pastors. They may simply be other adult members of the religious congregation who have reached out to the youth and built meaningful personal relationships with them…the empirical evidence tells us that it does in fact matter for emerging adult religious outcomes whether or not youth have had nonparental adults in their religious congregations to whom they could turn for help and support…. It matters whether or not teenagers have participated in adult-taught religious education classes, such as Sunday school. Adult engagement with, role modeling for, and formation of youth simply matters a great deal for how they turn out after they leave the teenage years.” (p285)
Leon Jameson: One simple way to help youth stay connected to the church is by staying in touch with them. Email messages from staff and church members, Facebook posts, text messages, church newsletters, website updates. Young adults love hearing about “life at home” and this is an easy way to keep that connection.
At Immanuel one of the most effective tools in keeping youth connected to the church has been involving them as young adult leaders in youth programming. Young adults bring a different layer of community, a different layer of connectedness with teenagers, a different layer of life experience, and a different layer of spiritual maturity to youth ministry. This particular age group has a great deal to offer the church; all we need to do is open the door and welcome them in.
Leland Jackson: I have had an ebb and flow with college ministry over the years. Part of the issue is the relationships that you have had with the youth through high school and then when they stay in town for a couple of years for community college. Having something for them after high school on a regular basis (weekly) has helped keep them connected. The Memorial Day Servant Event at Lutheran Valley Retreat in Divide, Colorado, has helped some of the youth–now college students–stay connected with their church and the good memories they had experienced with summer camp. I had a group six years ago that helped be the basis for Servant Ministry during Winter break in New Orleans for three to four years. Now they have graduated from college and have jobs and lives that don’t lend to them having the freedom to take off when they want. You need two to four people who will be the foundation of the group and keep inviting their friends to be a part of the activity. Six years ago we had a person who would randomly pull a group together after a home game and head for the church and play volleyball, hide and seek, sardines, or even board games like Apples to Apples in the basement. Fifteen to twenty college students would be running around the church on those off nights. I would check on them when I realized lights were on at weird times and meet new people who I hadn’t met yet and in turn invite them to be a part of the Young Adult Ministry on Wednesdays at 8:00 p.m. The challenge is getting the core group to be consistent and in leadership to the rest. (If things are flowing for them, encourage them to speak up and give voice to the material, topic, or schedule of the group. There is a lot of untapped resources among our college students.) The challenge is having the college student continue to stay connected to Christ’s Church so that they can continue to grow in their faith and to help the message of Christ’s love be shared among all people, even college students.
Lauren Nietubicz: We are blessed with a number of kids who go to schools nearby (within an hour or so); therefore, many of them will come home now and then and play in the youth band (or praise band for church). We did a college panel this year where I had eight or so college kids come and talk to our high schoolers about “life after high school”… it was our first time to do it and it worked out really well.
At my previous church, we did “adopt a college kid,” where people could send care packages to our college kids each month.
What about those youth who don’t go to college…the ones who go into the military or straight into jobs…what do you do with them?
Jessica Bordeleau: It doesn’t matter what youth do after high school, the challenge is to help them connect with others in their congregation in a new way–no longer as youth, but as emerging adults. They are a vital part of the community and need the support and involvement of the community to redefine their new role as an emerging adult. Anything the congregation members can do to show them that they are still valued and loved by the community will help them feel more comfortable at church and increase the likelihood that they will remain connected to the church community. Care packages, birthday cards, emails, and Facebook messages can go a long way–so can a hand shake and smile when they are at church. Sometimes mentoring relationships between different generations can be difficult and require some additional support like get-to-know-you events and intentional relationship building training for youth and adults alike. The LCMS Youth Ministry Office has a Lutheran Youth Fellowship training on that topic called ” Teen Bridge Building Training”. It’s a six-part Bible Study designed to help teach youth how to build relationships with people of other ages in their congregations. It’s not the answer, but it’s a start.
Leon Jameson: It is important to keep this group of youth connected to the church with meaningful roles. Perhaps it’s a role in the praise band. Maybe it is as a Sunday School teacher. Maybe a part-time office assistant. Maybe they are empowered, equipped, and enabled to lead a ministry focused on this particular age group.
Leland Jackson: That’s why we do the Young Adult Ministry group. It includes college students and those who are working. The Military personnel receive care packages twice a year like the college students.
Lauren Nietubicz: At this point–not a whole lot…I would love to hear more thoughts on it!
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Leon Jameson, DCE, is Director of Discipleship at Immanuel Lutheran Church in St. Charles, Missouri.
Jessica Bordeleau is Young Adult Ministry Consultant for the LCMS Youth Ministry Office in St. Louis, Missouri.
Leland Jackson is the DCE at Trinity Lutheran Church in Garden City, Kansas.
Lauren Nietubicz is the DCE at Trinity Lutheran Church in Spring, Texas.