May is a busy time in the lives of most families as it marks the school year winding down and summer excitement beginning. It also means your high school seniors are on the verge of graduating and involved in planning what life will look like for them in the fall when they go off to college.
Church leadership, particularly the youth minister, have a vital role to play during this bridge in time between high school graduation and move-in day of college. Most students are excited about this next chapter of their lives but also secretly filled with questions and to some level anxiety and fear. There is just as much uncertainty as joyful anticipation. Will I make friends? Will I be lonely? Will I be able to find my way around? Will I fit in? Who will I go to if something goes wrong?
Lifeway Research data shows that about 70% of young adults that attended church in high school drop out of church attendance after graduation. These young people need to stay connected to their faith community, although they don’t realize that need. However, during their time at college at some point they will find themselves longing for the familiarity of connection and the support they once knew.
Through Fuller Youth Institute’s research they have found that contact with at least one adult outside the youth ministry during the fall of freshman year is connected with higher faith outcomes. There are simple, but powerful ways your church can act now to keep these young people connected even when they gain the independence of their college experience.
Match several of your youth leaders and active older adults with one student each and commission them to commit to twice a month send an encouraging note, letter or care package to their student.
Ask parents that have already had their children go to college to commit to pray for specific students and their families and check in on the parents once a month during their child’s freshman year.
Go ahead and plan and calendar a social event during fall break and advertise it so those freshmen that will be returning home have a time to look forward to and reconnect. This provides connections back to home base and reminds them with the accountability of a date when they will soon reconnect. It also reminds them they still have a place and are missed.
Pre-plan weekly emails to the group of freshmen with encouragement, ways they can be praying for those back home and reminders from your group that they are being prayed for by those back home.
Use this time before they head off to college to intentionally connect them with the campus director of the faith organization from your denomination at their college., Make sure they connect via email, phone or in person. Having a person that knows of them and anticipates their coming can make a huge difference in their comfort level and increases the likelihood that they will at least give that organization a try.
Contact a church local to the college they will be attending and seek out their college and family minister to let them know your student will be moving to their city. Ask them to reach out to your student particularly within the first week they move in to check on them and invite them to attend church or an event. Encourage the minister to follow up with your student if at all possible.
Creating a network for your graduating seniors BEFORE they become freshman and setting into motion a plan to help them stay connected to their faith community is also potentially setting them up for success.
What can you do NOW to help your college freshmen stay connected next year?