RECONNECTING WITH PAST STUDENTS OVER CHRISTMAS
As Christmas parties and neighborhood caroling begin to wrap up, our youth alum often begin to return home. Without regular programming in which to invite them, how can we connect with these important young men and women?
Here are a few ideas:
1. COFFEE. COFFEE. COFFEE.
Set up shop in a local coffee house. Send out individual invites to come join you. When possible, avoid mass invitations as using names will add sincerity to your invitation. If you don’t have a budget to buy them coffee, ask your high school parents to donate gift cards to coffee shops. They’ll appreciate knowing their own children will receive the same care in a couple of years.
2. ATTACH A GATHERING TO YOUR MAIN CHRISTMAS SERVICE.
If you have a Christmas Eve service, invite your youth alums to arrive an hour early and serve hot chocolate and coffee. Display pictures from when they were in youth group. We have been amazed at how many former youth will show up at 10pm Christmas Eve before our midnight service.
3. WELCOME THEM IN WORSHIP.
Encourage your worship leaders to welcome “those who live away but have returned to their church home” when they are welcoming visitors and other groups of people. Even better, invite them to stand and be recognized. Any actions that say “welcome home” will go a long way.
4. INVITE THE FORMER YOUTH TO PARTICIPATE IN WORSHIP.
This will be particularly meaningful for youth who have served in this manner before. Remind them that they are still an integral part of their faith community even as they are working or studying afar.
5. GATHER AROUND SERVICE.
The Christmas season is ripe with opportunities to serve in the community. Invite youth who have returned home to serve together one afternoon. Feed the hungry. Share coats and blankets with those who are cold. Assist at a shelter for those who are homeless.
6. FILL IN THE GRAY AREAS.
For students who were once active in their youth communities and are now in the “grey area,” or the in-between area of youth and young adults, it is helpful to build some connection to the young adult community at your church. If you have a casual gathering of college students, invite young adults to help provide hospitality or even share a devotional.
7. FOSTER ONLINE COMMUNITY.
Students are extremely plugged into social media. One way to foster connection to students away at college is utilizing this way of communication. Occasionally, send them a photo or tag them in a photo from a youth conference, mission trip or youth group (you can easily use #TBT and #FBF). It helps them to know that they are not forgotten and that all their experiences are still important and meaningful to you (as their leader) and your church community. During the holiday season, increase your use of this method, which can then become an invitational tool to return back into their home church community.
8. CREATE TIMES FOR CELEBRATIONS.
Find a family who will host a drop-in New Year’s celebration (it doesn’t have to be on New Year’s Eve or Day) with snacks or dinner. Encourage college students to share their unique stories. This can also be used as a “sending you back to college” time, but with joy, instead of sadness.
9. COLLEGE CARE PACKAGES.
Remember how surprising and wonderful it feels to get a package, in the mail, just for you? Care packages can be done at any time of the year. If you choose to do this project just before the holiday season, you can include a flyer or postcard with all your planned events that include college students. The message a care package sends is, “You are important. We recognize that you are not here and we want you to know that you are still a part of our community.” Getting current youth to write personal notes of encouragement and prayers are meaningful as well. Invite your larger church community to donate all the items you want to send in your package and have them include encouraging notes.
Laura Boisvert Boyd is a Licensed Professional Counselor, who has worked in student development in high education, private counseling practice and in youth ministry for eighteen years. She is currently on staff at WHITE MEMORIAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, in Raleigh, NC as their Director of High School and College Ministry. She is active on Instragram @wmpc_hs_youth and Facebook.
Chip Pope has been in youth ministry for the last sixteen years, serving churches in Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina. He’s an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and is currently the Associate Pastor of Youth and Their Families at WHITE MEMORIAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH in Raleigh, NC. Chip chats about youth ministry, family, and sports on Twitter at @cpope3.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.