Graduation is quickly approaching. In the coming months, many youth will transition out of our ministries. How do we help them as they move on? How do we continue to be a support for them? How can we get the church to continue to show them love? There are so many questions about these transitions. While not all of the youth go on to college, we are using this month to focus on that group. We kick off our college kids month with…….
“How do you help your youth prepare for college?”
Jen Van Camp has been the youth pastor at Nineteenth Avenue Baptist Church in San Francisco, CA for over 8 years now. She grew up in Lexington, KY, and is a graduate of Cumberland College and McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta. She loves her niece and 3 nephews, her little dog Chito, all things music, pop culture trivia, and of course, Kentucky basketball.
I think helping students prepare for college and giving them a space to ask questions and express fears as well as things they’re excited about is very important. I haven’t always done a great job at providing this space, but last summer we started something new.
On several occasions, my pastor and I teamed up and invited high school seniors, as well as current college students and other young adults, to come together for discussion (and of course, snacks) at her house. It was pretty informal, but we had some prepared questions for us to discuss, such as “What are you most looking forward to?” and “What is your biggest worry/concern?” as well as “What elements of adult life/living have been the most comfortable or uncomfortable for you?” These prompted some great discussion and the soon-to-be college freshmen could listen and learn from those who had some experience. We tried to create a safe space in which the students could feel at home and comfortable in expressing their concerns and realities. One of our final questions was, “What is it that you enjoy about being together as a fellowship?” and made sure they knew that there was always someone pulling for them, that they were never alone, because they always had our church community to be there for them.
I really loved our times together and look forward to creating those spaces again this coming summer with our small community of students and young adults. It’s not a program, but rather an opportunity for them to share their hearts, and as a minister, isn’t that what it’s about?
Chris Cherry is an ordained minister who received his Masters of Divinity from McAfee School of Theology. He enjoys foosball and skittles, but doesn’t particularly care for static electricity. He is currently serving as Minister to Students at St Andrews Baptist Church in Columbia, SC.
I grew up in church and was one of the most active youth ministry members around. Early in high school, I felt a call to ministry and truly thought I understood the importance of church. Then, I left for college.
It took me a year to find a church I wanted to attend regularly. Many weekends, it was much easier to sleep in than to get up and visit a new place. I especially didn’t want to go somewhere new alone, so if my friends decided to sleep in, I didn’t go either. I liked a lot of the places I visited, but none of them were exactly like my home church. It took me a year, as a religion major and experienced church goer, to realize that I can’t simply look for my home church. Instead, I needed to be looking for a place that fit the faith I was beginning to own for myself, a place that would let me participate and grow, and a place that would challenge me when I thought I knew it all. It took me a year, and for the most part, I was actively looking.
My story looks like many others. Finding a new church in college is hard. For those who go to school in town, even staying committed to their own church is hard once they leave the direct accountability of the youth group. I believe the biggest thing we, as youth ministers, can do for our seniors is to have this exact conversation with them. Let them know it will be hard, let them know all churches are different, let them know it’s ok to visit around and see what new things look like, and let them know that it’s normal to struggle finding the right place.
Within that conversation, we should be encouraging and we should be helpful. Who do we know that works in a church near their school? How can we help them understand some of the differences in tradition they’ll see? How do we equip them while they’re still in the youth ministry to take ownership of their own faith? How do we maintain open lines of communication with them throughout their college journey? How do we create a space of “home” in the church where they grew up?
The following are a few ideas I’ve compiled from other youth ministers and my own experience. If one of these jumps out at you, feel free to take it and make it your own.
- Senior Sendoff—This is a low stress, laid back time of gathering the families of each senior. Prepare the parents/grandparents/guardians to be able to answer a couple questions (ex: What are you most proud of in your senior? What is the most important piece of your own faith you want your senior to take with him/her?) It’s helpful to have food, a time of sharing, stories, and something special the seniors can do together that carries meaning.
- Senior Leadership Opportunities—Get your seniors involved in helping teach younger (or even older) Sunday School classes a couple times during the year. Encourage them to see other parts of the larger church outside of just the youth gatherings. Bring them in to planning sessions for retreats and mission trips. Allow your seniors to be hands on and give them the tools to build their own faith.
- Senior Sunday School—Many of us are in churches that aren’t big enough to have an existing Sunday School class just for seniors, but maybe this is something that can be done once a month in their final spring semester? Focus on topics that are relevant to them—finding a church in college, encountering new people in a loving respectful way, seeing your faith as a piece in a larger world, doing your own laundry, etc.
- Senior Retreat—Whether there are three seniors or 300, a Senior Retreat is a great way to bring them together, encourage them, have more meaningful conversations with them, and to hit on the topics they face that younger youth aren’t worried about yet. It doesn’t even have to be a fancy retreat, just a night away with responsible adults who are ready to hang out, listen, and share.