First and foremost, students need an authentic faith in Jesus to stay connected and committed to the church. This is the bedrock for faith. But study after study shows students, even many faithful ones, falling away from church after high school. How can youth workers combat this? Students need to be connected to more adults in the church than only the student ministry worker. Students must have a web of relationships. Why do people stick around the church when things get rocky? Because they are connected to other people. The first people to leave are the ones who don’t really have lots of connections.
Through Harvest Ministry, I learned this lesson many years ago. If I went to a camp or event on my own, I connected with a certain percentage of students, maybe 60%. Once we began taking a Harvest Team to serve in the special events, between us, we connected to nearly all the students. There was always someone from Harvest with whom a student would connect. Some of this was due to the sheer number of manpower hours available through a team approach. But another reason they connected was because of personalities, interests, and other similarities.
If a student is only connected to the youth pastor, then it’s a difficult transition to stick around with the church after graduation. There’s no place, no relationship. The single best way to keep students involved in the church following graduation (and sometimes even before) is to have a web of relationships with other adults in the church.
What are some ways we can help the students develop a web of relationships in the church?
Invite students to participate in the life of the church.
How do students begin participating in the life of the church? They are invited. Create a culture of students attending worship. Invite the pastor to come to youth group and visit now and then. Invite students to serve the greater church and the adults in the church. Invite students to be involved in other aspects of ministry in the church – music, teaching or hospitality.
Encourage families to attend and become involved in church – pray for them to do so.
If a family is involved in the church, there are relationships formed on several fronts. I’ve found when parents are hanging around after worship, students are also hanging around and visiting. When the family is involved and connected, those connections for students are more easily nurtured. For more, read: How to reach out to families who don’t attend church with their kids. Pray for the families of your students on a regular basis. Prepare ways for them to become involved.
Develop leadership roles for students as they are growing older in ministry.
When students serve on Sundays in areas such as tech ministry, worship ministry, children’s ministry, they are involved with other leaders and get to spend time with them in ministry. Read: Older students will either lead or leave. Recently, we signed up 4 or 5 of our students to be Scripture readers during on of the early Sunday services. They’re doing it and doing it well! In the process, they are meeting with the pastor and getting to know the people in that service.
Involve as many adults as possible in student ministry with an ongoing basis or for special events.
One of the primary roles of the student ministry worker is to help the church disciple the next generation. Spend 1/4 of your hours inviting, developing and creating opportunities for adults to participate in student ministry. This is counter-intuitive, but imperative if you are going to build the kind ministry that is sustainable when you leave or when students graduate.
Cast vision for mentoring and relationships.
Talk about the importance of praying for and supporting the youth ministry every chance you get. Invite people to invest in the next generation through relationships, mentoring, connecting, giving and supporting students in the church.
Be creative with opportunities for adults to host student ministry events in their homes, help with retreats and other ministries.
Meet in a church member’s home for a breakfast before school. Have a planning meeting in a church member’s home. Have a night where the guys in the youth group go out to a leader’s home for a specific guys night. Have the girls meet in a leader’s home for a girls event. If your group is smaller, just meet in someone’s home for a party or special event. Relationships are naturally built when you are in someone’s home or in another setting.
Build a culture of modeling – if there are deep relationships among church members, students will catch a glimpse of it.
One of the best ways you may be able to help develop connections with students is to model it. What does it mean to take a sincere interest in the students at church? What does it mean to have an authentic, Christ like relationship with other adults. Model these things for the church members and students. Telling students is one thing, but allowing a student to see the camaraderie two youth sponsor dudes can have together as they joke about something, plan something or give a bear hug, can be life changing for a student.
As it is with many posts about youth ministry it always seems like the advice is geared toward a five year approach. So, what can we do today – for the students who are becoming disconnected today?
1) Share this blog post with your church family.
2) Share this blog post with families of the students in your ministry.
3) Ask for feedback from the church about how they believe students could become more connected.
4) Call one person on your church roster today – and invite them to join you on the next special event – for the sole purpose of loving and connecting with students.
How do you help students build relationships with other adults in the church?
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