High school seniors need help navigating the multitude of changes headed their way. They will soon enter the work force, take a gap year, or continue their education through a trade school, community college or four-year university. They probably feel a mixture of excitement and anxiety about the transitions ahead. Unfortunately, while pursuing these future endeavors, even many of the students who have experienced a strong connection to their local church will struggle to keep that in the next stage of life. However, you can help improve their chances for continued intimacy with the church or their chances of getting connected to a church for the first time.
- Start early
Before we look at some practical steps to take in the coming days. I would like to point out that most of what we can do to help students successfully remain connected starts long before graduation. Healthy churches…
- Equip parents to disciple their children. In a recent conversation, Steven Price, a long-time student pastor in Arkansas and the current pastor of First Baptist Church in Marianna, stated that students often imitate the faith of their parents. He said, “Churches who intentionally invest in parents to equip them to disciple their children from birth will see students who graduate from high school but do not graduate from the church (or the faith).”
- Train students. He also pointed out the need to train students in apologetics in order to spiritually prepare them for some of the challenges facing their faith in early adulthood.
- Build cross-generational relationships. Price continued, “Research consistently shows that students who have (at least) 3-5 meaningful relationships with adults within the church (outside of the student ministry) are more likely to stay connected.”
- Break the ice
Brandon Massey, student pastor at First Baptist Church in White Hall, said the best advice he has ever heard on helping a student transition to the next stage of life is for an adult (preferably a parent) to help break the ice. Here is what he means:
- Physically show them where to go. Are they staying local? Show them their Sunday School class. Introduce them to their teacher. Are they moving or going to college? Massey advises, “When parents go with their seniors to visit colleges, they should intentionally go in with their seniors to the BCM (Baptist Collegiate Ministry).” Show them local churches.
- Make introductions. Introduce them to local BCM and church leaders. Help them overcome the anxiety of having to meet another unknown adult. I cannot tell you the number of college students I connected with over the years because Brandon let me know they were coming to my town.
- Share contact information. Spend a couple of minutes filling out this link (https://www.absc.org/freshmen) for incoming college freshmen and we will connect them with local BCMs and churches. Call someone you know in that town.
- Follow-up. Call them weekly to see if they attended a BCM event or local church, ask their thoughts, and encourage them to keep at it until they find healthy biblical community. It is a fragile season, be a constant force for good in their life. Stay connected for the long haul, but intentionally be persistent during the transition.
- Proactively welcome new students
Welcome recent graduates to your town with open arms. Upperclassmen or local church members can invite them to dinner, church, BCM, small group, a movie, etc. There are a variety of ways to connect, but…
- Do it quickly. Put yourself in strategic places to meet students and connect with them. Help them move into dorms or apartments (especially in your neighborhood). Arliss Dickerson, the godfather of collegiate ministry and former BCM Campus Minister at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro for 32 years who has a wealth of information available on reaching freshmen, often says, “What a student does and the friends they make the first three weeks often determines their whole college career.” The same is true for people starting careers. Take young people at work under your wing, introduce yourself on their first day, and be helpful.
- Do it effectively. Serve young adults in helpful ways but look for methods that build bridges beyond a welcoming face. They will need your friendship when the new wears off. They need biblical community. The BCM will connect them to that on campus, but our goal is to get them intimately connected to one of our local Southern Baptist Convention churches. Would a young person find long-term mentors and friends at your church? Whether you are inviting them to lunch at your house or offering to personally lead them through a Bible study. Look for ways to meaningfully connect to young adults. Also, find ways for them to serve in the local church. Most young people will not stay connected to a church if they do not have a way to serve.
- Do it again. Year after year, more young people enter adulthood. As parents every single one of us should take heed of the advice in this article. However, many young people do not have parents who are going to take these steps. BCMs across the state are ready to serve our churches and help them create a culture that year after year welcomes young people into adulthood through the context of healthy biblical community, on and off the campus.