A month or so ago, high schools held graduation ceremonies. Soon, the graduates in your youth group will likely head to college in the fall. Some may remain local, but others may not. In either case, churches face a harsh reality. Every summer when graduates enter their next level of education, attendance takes a hit. As a church, our hope is that these students will keep coming back to the church when they’re home for the weekend or the holidays. But, of course, our ultimate hope is that they will become engaged in a church body while away for college. However, often times they leave the nest and stop going to church in any capacity.
Youth groups might feel like fun and friends to exiting students, but that isn’t what keeps students engaged in the church once they leave their parents house, because often times, their friends are leaving as well. And regardless of how personal and inspirational your pastor is, it’s not going to keep the students committed. Even if they’re really involved as a volunteer and close with many of the members of your church, it won’t keep them hooked.
So what can we do to keep graduating students active and engaged?
1) The relationship with the student pastor and/or small group leader. This is vital. Students who have fruitful relationships with their youth pastor and small group leader, especially the seniors, are more likely to stay in touch with those leaders as they leave for college. But it needs to be a priority of the leader to keep those lines of communication open. If communication is consistent, students are more likely to come back to your church while they are home on the weekends or for holidays.
2) Engage with students on social media. It may be something as simple as liking a picture they post on Facebook or Instagram. Comment on their posts. If you know they’re going to be home one weekend, let them know that you are looking forward to seeing them. Send them encouraging messages every now and then. You never know when what you have to say may speak to someone and what they are going through at that moment.
3) Parents make a huge difference. Kids that have been bribed or dragged to church their whole life may see their newfound freedom and rarely set foot in church again since no one is there to make them wake up and go. On the contrary, kids that have been shown a good example by their parents about why they attend church are more likely to stay engaged. Think about it this way. We don’t go to church because we have to. We go to church because we get to. Think about the billions of people across the world who don’t get to go to church. It’s a privilege to go to church. Communicate that to your students. It will teach them to make their own decisions, and that only sets them up well for the future.
You may have other ideas. Obviously there are only a few here, but we believe they are good ones. We want your students to remain engaged and we realize it takes more than one action or activity for that to happen. Keep these in mind as your students leave for college this fall.