By Josh Hussung
The transition between high school and adulthood is usually a bumpy one. It’s a season of change. There are shifts in physical location, responsibility, decisions, and many other facets of life.
This season of change also affects our experience of church life. Whether it’s from high school to college or college to “career,” our experience of church changes during this time.
For some students, this transition can be unsettling, and can sometimes lead to a disconnection from church life altogether. But there are ways churches can help make this transition easier for students.
I’m convinced that at least part of the awkwardness of that transition has to do with students not fully being integrated with the broader church body before they leave. Here are 4 ways churches can integrate students into church life more effectively, as well as prepare them for the coming transition.
1. Let them worship with adults now.
Students who are only spending their church experience worshipping with other students will feel strange when they’re suddenly thrust into worship with adults.
The church is meant to be an intergenerational experience, and we rob our students of that when we sequester them from the corporate worship gathering.
Churches that want their students to be engaged in churches beyond high school will encourage them to attend the corporate worship gathering on Sunday mornings. This doesn’t mean there’s no place for student-only worship times, but that shouldn’t be their only worship experience.
2. Let them serve now.
When church is treated like a product to be consumed, and the product changes, this can be a problem. The church isn’t a product for our consumption, but a living organism.
Everyone in the church has a way to contribute for the good of the rest. Service, the using of our gifts, is the way we contribute to the body of Christ. Students who are brought up in a context that teaches them that they’re consumers are set up for failure when they find a new place.
Churches who want students to be engaged as adults will engage them in service before they are adults.
So, whether it’s helping on the sound or worship team, greater ministry, or helping with setup and tear down, students who serve are going to know that, even if their life changes, their ability to serve God in the context of the local church does not.
3. Talk about the transition with them now.
There are a lot of students who don’t know what to expect in regards to their relationship with the church once they leave the youth ministry.
What will things be like? Are they going to just go to a college ministry, sort of like a ministry upgrade? What happens after that? What if there aren’t many college students at their church?
Simply talking through what to expect will help shape a student’s understanding about this transition.
Hold a meeting (or several meetings) for your older high school students to discuss this change. Let them ask questions, help them understand what to expect in college or adult life, and especially help them understand what will change about their church experience.
Invite college students or young adults who are just a little ahead to come and share their stories about where they are attending and how they are serving.
4. Walk with them.
Students can often feel tossed out into the world on their own in relation to their church life. Think about how crazy that is.
When a student goes to college, they have orientation. Someone walks them around campus, shows them where everything is, introduces them to people, and helps them see what college life will be like.
In their dorms, they have an RA who is there as a resource for them. Someone is walking with them through how college life will be, and is then available for them, and they know it.
But in regards to church, students are frequently told they should find one, but aren’t given any practical help in this area. There are many ways we can help students with this, but I think the most important one would be continued presence and availability.
Parents (of course) and ministry leaders, should help students understand that just because they have exited the youth ministry at your church doesn’t mean that they have exited your life.
For students going away, help them research churches in advance. Parents can make a trip with them before school starts and visit one together.
Ministry leaders can make themselves available when students are back between semesters to ask how they are doing and answer questions.
For college students who are staying in town and at your church, there are simple ways to help them.
Invite a student or group of students to sit with you. Invite them to your Sunday School class, or help them know where the one for their age group is. Ministry leaders can help students get plugged into small groups and into service in the greater life of the church.
These are all ways students can be embraced by the body of Christ as they make this crucial transition.
Let’s serve our students by integrating them into the body of Christ properly now, preparing them for post-high school life, and by walking with them, even when they’ve left.
JOSH HUSSUNG (@joshhussung) is the Pastor of Youth and Families at Grace Community Church in Nashville. He has also written for Rooted Ministry and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.