Helping high school students remain spiritually connected after graduation 

Canva photo

Helping high school students remain spiritually connected after graduation 

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 students who have experienced a strong connection to their local church may struggle to maintain that in the next stage of life. However, helpful fellow believers can 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.

— Equip parents to disciple their children. Steven Price, a long-time student pastor in Arkansas, said 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 and stay connected with the church and their faith.

— Train students. Ethan McCreary, pastor of The Well Church in Huntsville, a church-planting network in college cities, writes that college campuses need incoming freshmen who have more than a basic contact with the Word; “they need students for whom the Word lives inside of them (John 15:7).” Commit to discipling students in your church, McCreary said. “Do whatever it takes to see that they mature as fully devoted followers of Jesus who not only hear the Word but do the Word (James 1:22).”

Price said apologetics training is also a way to spiritually prepare high school students for some of the challenges their faith will face in early adulthood.

— Build cross-generational relationships. “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,” Price said.

McCreary added, “graduating seniors need the whole church. Following Jesus happens best in community.”

Break the ice

Choosing a college is a big decision, and lots of factors are involved. But churches in college towns need strong college freshmen, McCreary said. He suggests rising college freshmen choose a campus that needs Jesus, and he advises churches to celebrate seniors as they are “sent” as one step in the transition process.

Arkansas-based student pastor Brandon Massey 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 for incoming college freshmen at Alabama universities that can help young people connect 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 the key involves the following:

— 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 has said, “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 campus, but our goal is to get them intimately connected to one of our local Southern Baptist 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 consider being more intentional in reaching out to students during this time of transition. However, many young people do not have parents who are going to take these steps.

Many BCMs throughout the United States, are ready to serve churches and help them create a culture that year after year welcomes young people into adulthood through the context of healthy biblical community, both on and off the campus.

EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Phillip Slaughter and originally published by the Arkansas Baptist News, news service of the Arkansas Baptist Convention. This  article was adapted and edited for a national audience. The Alabama Baptist contributed.