The Transition of Students Out of Youth Ministry
It isn’t a surprise to anyone in youth ministry that every year there are students who leave our ministries. But I’m not talking about students who have decided to go to a different youth group. No, I’m talking about the natural, rhythmic, transition for your students. From being a senior in your ministry to going off to college or into the workforce and ultimately taking part in the greater congregation. There are so many different things that churches can do to transition students out of youth ministry. Our goal should not just be to transition them out of ministry but to adequately prepare them for the next steps they are about to take.
Over the years, I have always had a core group of students who were given the responsibility to be more than just a spectator. These students, often times juniors and seniors, were charged with the responsibility to be a face and an advocate for the ministry. This looks differently for each student depending on what their giftings are. Student leaders can preach, lead worship, head up announcements, co-lead a small group, run the tech booth and spearhead a hospitality team; where they make a point to introduce themselves to every new person that walks through the door. These talents, waiting to be explored within the awkward, rambunctious and loud students, all point to God working within their lives. If fostered properly, the leadership role that they choose will help them prepare for the responsibilities they are about to gain.
However, having these students in a leadership position puts a higher call both on yourself and the students. Because of that, it is crucial to make sure that you know what is happening within the lives of your students, not just within the church, but in their personal life as well. It becomes your job, and the job of your leaders, to hold your students accountable for their actions. But being a person who holds students accountable means that you will have to truly know your students. This makes it so that the students get to be familiar with letting someone know them on a deeper level. It also makes it so that as choices are made, they start to think about what the decision actually means for them. They then have to begin to make smart decisions with the future in mind. This then helps them prepare for the decisions that they will have to make as an adult. It’s a win-win.
Toward the end of high school, parents take their children to different colleges to allow them to experience the school before they make a final decision. So why don’t we make the same effort in helping our students find a church once they transition out of ministry? More than likely, if a student is going away to college they will not stay in town and be able to attend the church they grew up in. So we, as youth pastors, should take that as a call to do our best to educate our students before they leave. My suggestion is during second semester, take one Sunday a month to attend a different church. Different denominations, traditional, non-traditional, small congregation, mega church… the works.
This isn’t going to come without some legwork beforehand. Each of the churches will have to be vetted first to make sure that you aren’t taking your students to a church that is essentially a cult, or somewhere that parents will have an issue with. This requires phenomenal communication between yourself and the parents to make sure that they know where you are going and what your intentions are behind these church visits. Afterward, a debriefing of what you just experienced is needed. Remember, this is a time for the students to talk about and process what they experienced. You are there to provide the churches for students and then answer any questions that they may have. Lunch is a great time for this to happen because life happens over a shared meal.
I know that not everyone can take that many Sundays off in one semester. After all, we are pastors, youth workers, leaders and volunteers with a job to do. But that’s why you have a team of leaders. Obviously, you trust them enough to lead a small group so why not have two of them take your seniors to the churches? Yay delegation! You just need to make sure that they are prepared enough to answer the questions that may come their way. It is important to be in communication with the students later that week to hear their thoughts and answer any questions they may still have. There is a need to teach our students how to find a church. That way when they go out from your ministry, they won’t be blindsided by finding a church.
Don’t be afraid of failure
Some ideas that you will use to prepare your students for the transition out of ministry will fail. But the wonderful thing is that it doesn’t matter. As long as something was still learned through the process. Now you know not to do that in the future. It’s like Thomas Edison when he invented the light bulb, it was his 2,000th attempt when he finally made a filament that worked. At the end of it all, he didn’t say that he failed 1,999 times, he simply just discovered 1,999 different way not to make a lightbulb. Remember, a failure is only truly a failure if you don’t learn anything from it. So just like with the rest of youth ministry, don’t be afraid of failure; just make sure that you are still moving towards your end goal.
[bctt tweet=” A failure is only truly a failure if you don’t learn anything from it.” username=”ys_scoop”]
These ideas may not work for your ministry, and that is completely fine. But one thing that does work regardless of where you are is community. Through all of the transition, if you do it through a Christ-centered community, you’ll make it. Jesus calls us to live our lives in communion with other believers and this isn’t an exception. This example of a Christ-centered community is what your students will look at to duplicate in their next chapter of life. The better that we can demonstrate that the better off that they will be and hopefully if we have done our jobs right, our students won’t walk away from the church. There is hope yet. Students don’t have to be helpless as they leave the comfort of youth ministry and step into the greater congregation of the capital C Church.
Eli Waibel grew up in a small mountain town 35 miles outside of Denver, Colorado and holds a degree in youth ministry from Colorado Christian University. For the last two years, he has been the Student Ministries Intern at a church in Denver and is currently looking for his next youth ministry position. Eli loves doing almost anything outside and working with students and finding ways to get them out of their comfort zone and find God; especially through participating in God’s creation all throughout Colorado’s wilderness.
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.