Sunday, May 29, 2011

Practicing the Intentional Hand-Off with High School Graduates

This morning was Graduation Sunday at our church - - one of the few Sundays when we let the youth minister do the preaching, and we recognize the students who are graduating from high school and college. We talk about staying on the right path and making good choices.....but it leaves me wondering why the statistics for how many Christians walk away from their faith during college continue to be shockingly high.....20 years ago, my campus minister used to tell people it was 7 out of 10 Christians kids who didn't return to church....others have said anywhere from 65%-94% of high schoolers who leave our churches will never darken the door of a church again.

The members of a football team understand that when you're trying to get the ball across the goal line, you don't just toss the football up in the air and hope it ends up in the right hands. Players practice throwing the ball to the intended receivers. They run plays to make sure the ball is passed from one player to another, intentionally moving it down the field.

So why hasn't the Church done better at the Intentional Hand-Off? Why do we think that all we can do is pray that our kids make good choices and stay on the right path? We throw them out into the college culture and just hope they land in the right hands.

I think there are a few reasons the Church has faltered in this area:

1. We mistakenly believe that the #1 priority of a college student is to get a degree.
The ultimate goal of every person is to display the Glory of God. Whether you're a college student or a parent or a grocery store bagger or a computer programmer. So when our high schoolers move on to college, we need to help them figure out where and how they can do that best during the next 4 years instead of focusing only on things like their major or internship opportunities. This is hard for the parents who are paying for this college education. We often encounter parents who remind their students that they're at college to get an education, so extra-curriculars like Bible study or service projects should take a back seat to academics. Yes, we want our college students to do well in school, but we want them to do well in life, too, and that means staying connected to the God of the universe.

2. We think that the independence of college life means students no longer need community.

God intended that we are better together. Whether we're 4 or 40, we grow, learn, serve, and love better with other people. In most of our churches, kids grow up going to Sunday School and Church Camp and Youth Group with the same group kids, often with the same kids they go to school with. We weren't meant to do it on our own, and we certainly haven't prepared most of our students to be able to stand on their own. College freshmen need a community of believers they can grow and serve with - and if they're going to class and work with those same students, it's even better. Finding a Community is essential to their success.

3. We assume the local Church is meeting the needs of college students.

This is getting a little uncomfortable.

Let me start by saying that I LOVE the local Church. I am sold on God's plan to rescue His people through His church. But expecting our graduates to jump from youth group and sunday school into an adult Sunday School class with their parents doesn't seem to be successful. We get calls from churches every semester asking how they could do a better job of attracting college students and ministering to the ones they already have, and I think we could agree that very few of our churches have enough students or enough consistency from year to year to maintain a thriving college ministry.

The statistics say it all. In general, the Church doesn't know what to do with college students.

This is where the Intentional Hand-Off comes in.

We (The Church) need to do a better job taking the high school graduates we've taught, encouraged, discipled, and trained and handing them off to the next faith community in their journey.

Maybe your church is one of the few that has an active college ministry. How can you connect grads with that group and challenge them to make the commitment to live their lives for Christ during their college years?

Many of our graduates are going away to school. We need to get better at intentionally handing our students off to The Church on campus. Campus ministries are an extension of Local Church, USA and are equipped to continue the discipling, training, and loving that the local church began!

Here are some things you can do to help the college graduates in your church:

  • When your teen is researching schools, make sure they research what campus ministries are active and help your student learn about what kinds of things they offer
  • On campus tours, make sure you ask about campus ministries. Several of our Student Leaders serve as orientation leaders, and would love to connect with your student!
  • Physically GO to University churches or campus ministry buildings so your student has one less excuse ("I couldn't find it") for not going.
  • Meet the campus ministers on campus - - connect with them on email or meet them when you're on campus. Make sure they have the contact info for your student so they'll be informed about all of the Welcome Week activities ministries do to get to know new students.
Youth Workers/Church Members:
  • Take an interest in where the graduates in your church are going next, and ask them what they know about spiritual growth opportunities on campus.
  • Pass along the contact info for the kids in your churches to the campus ministries on the campuses where they're attending.
  • Take your local campus minister and recent grad out for a Steak Dinner so they can get to know each other. (My husband likes this one best!) Our campus ministry hosts a "High School Invasion" every Spring, where we invite local churches to bring their Senior out for a night of worship with our college students so they can get a glimpse of what it's all about. Whether they come to our campus or not, we think it's beneficial for them to see what a campus ministry is like.

The Intentional Hand-Off doesn't take alot of work or just takes, well, intentionality. Let's send the message to our graduates that we have great expectations for what God is going to do in and thru them during the next 4 years of their lives, and that they won't be alone. Students may still walk away from the church, but at least we will have done all we could to prevent it.

Find a Campus Ministry:
Association of College Ministries (Independent Christian Church Ministries)
Campus Crusade

What do you think? What else could we do to help our graduates make the transition to college?


Jill said...

This is so fascinating. I never really thought it through but college is where church lost me and my brothers. We were raised in a strong Christian family and church but I realize now that it was college where all three of us stopped going.

For my oldest brother, he went away to college and just didn't find anything at school. For my middle brother (who didn't go to college), it was this time in his life where the church failed to meet his needs with finding his way in life. I commuted to a community college but was unable to attend church much because of the time I was done and had a stable working schedule, there was no one left my age.

Literally, the church we grew up in consists of high school students and below and young families and above. For the very few college age people, they have to either hang out with the high schoolers that they would like to "grow out of" or go in with the young families where they are really out of place.

I think, in our church's case, there was an unwillingness to bend. I worked nightshift and got off at 7am. But the first service wasn't until 11. I couldn't stay awake that long but they refused to have an early service. Most of the college age students worked Sundays but there was never any talk of doing services on a different day.

I think there are college students out there that want church, they want that stability in their chaotic life but if a church refuses to move out of it's comfort zone, then they are going to lose a whole chunk of people - people who are at a very impressionable, stressful point in their lives.

cscmamareed said...

Thanks so much for posting this Gretchen! I love stealing your posts to send to my youth minister friends & family. They started a high school experience at WIU this year, and it went off pretty well, just need to get more ministers/parents on board with the idea!!

Gretchen Magruder said...

Jill, I think you're right - the Church has to be focused on meeting the needs of the people outside of the church, and not just focused on getting people in their doors!

Christi, our "High School Invasion" is a work in progress....but I think it's a great idea and hopefully will take off with persistence!!