David just graduated from high school and will be heading off to a Christian university in a few weeks. He has been a faithful part of our church’s student ministry since he was in middle school. But, soon he will be leaving his parents, his siblings, his church, his youth group, his youth pastor & youth workers, his friends, his small group and almost every other stable, spiritual influence in his life.
The transitions in his life will be incredible, and it has me wondering – is he ready?
Youth workers and parents of teenagers understand that adolescence is time of transition from childhood into adult life. However, I’m wondering if churches, and Christian parents alike are being intentional about helping our teenagers transition into adult life. Because, as my simple fictional illustration above points out, the changes in the lives of our church’s high school graduates will be quite significant.
According to current research, changes in relationships and environment are some of the most potent causes of stress that people face. Graduating high school students will soon experience a disruption in almost every aspect of their lives – and they often go through these changes without much preparation. Plus, major transitions are likely to happen if they move away to college, take college classes nearby, stay at home to find a job, or join the military. In our Western culture, new high school graduates will certainly face a plethora of cultural changes very quickly.
This brief article cannot hope to present full solutions to these serious situations, but below are a few suggestions to help church leaders think through and create an intentional strategy:
1. High school graduates are moving away from their families – help them to see the church as a family.
Students with “helicopter parents” or those from dysfunctional families all need to realize that being a part of the “family of God” is something very special. Local churches that keep in close contact with their high school graduates are likely to see lasting results – if they live in town, or even if they move away. Plus, “care packages” with chocolate-chip cookies can’t hurt!
2. High school graduates may be changing churches – help them find a welcoming, Bible-teaching church in their new neighborhood.
I’ve worked on Christian college campuses for around 20 years; and sadly, very rarely is finding a good church high on the priority list for incoming freshmen. Church leaders can have a continuing impact in these new young adults by helping them fit into a new church in their new community.
3. High school graduates are leaving their peer group – help them connect with a community of other believers somewhere else.
This suggestion follows closely to the idea just presented. Friends are obviously very important to high school students – and their connection to the youth ministry was undoubtedly a key ingredient to their personal involvement in the local church. But, now they will need to find a new circle of friends elsewhere. This will be true even if they stay home, but leave the youth group. Friendships formed during college often last a long time. So, it is imperative for college-age young adults to become connected to a positive Christian community of other peers.
4. High school graduates will not continue to have a close relationship with the church’s youth pastor and other adult youth workers – help them find other Godly adults as mentors.
A major characteristic of today’s youth ministry is usually the strong personality of a youth pastor or lay youth leader. Churches often hire youth pastors based upon their “pied piper” personalities that give them the ability to attract and minister to young people. When a high school graduate transitions out of our youth group, the influence of that strong personality is often gone. After all, youth pastors have an incoming group of new junior high-ers to make connections with. Older Godly adults (see Titus 2) can have a continuing influence in the lives of these maturing young adults.
5. High school graduates are entering an adult world – help them become confident, functioning adults.
An effective student ministry should prepare maturing teenagers to be servant-leaders, not consumers. Perhaps it’s time for them to quit attending youth group anyway – and instead, be functioning,