A pastor asked me last week, “How do you get college students and young adults plugged in? They come home and sing in the choir, but they won’t do any more than that.”
Systemically, go back to middle school and start engaging those students in a way that their faith becomes their own and that will draw them into a spiritual community long past their graduation from high school. We have failed a generation of students, and instead of finding a quick fix, let’s go to the source of the problem. Yet at the same time, we need to find a way for our young adults to reconnect.
I think it all boils down to this: keep it simple and small.
For a long time, churches have done a decent job of keeping kids as they finish elementary school and moved onto middle school, and the same for the transition to high school. But when they finish high school, a majority of students do not return to the church. Ever.
Now that leaders have started to ask questions and work to fix the system, many want a quick fix. This “fix” comes from two sources: the last connection these students had to the church was in youth group/youth ministry, which was big, fun and had a lot of bells and whistles. If you ask them, that’s what they will say they want [“What do you want from us?” response: “I want my youth group”]. Second, if you look at the big churches that have successful college/young adult ministries (Mclean Bible Church outside DC, University Baptist in Waco, NLCF in Blacksburg, Va., just to name a few), they have a band, great teaching pastor(s), a cool space to meet, some lights, a sound system. But the average church won’t be able to start with that infrastructure. And for most of those large churches, they probably didn’t start with that either.
SMALL: Kill any notion that you need to renovate your church building, buy a sound system or start a band.
SIMPLE: Find a leader, or small core of leaders, who wants to be a part of these young adults’ lives. They can be any age, any career, any family stage, as long as they follow these two simple ideas: preach a Gospel message that is relevant (it asks for a response, and shows a purpose and a connecting point); and be there.
If your leader volunteers, but can only be around every other week, then you might need to find a new leader. Consistency is key. This age group wants to find a connecting point in the church through a real, live person who will reach out and care for them. They want someone who will listen and not be quick to judge. They want someone who will be honest and not avoid the whole story.
The other important key is mission, to give these students a chance to live out their faith and connect their faith with the world around them.
They aren’t youth anymore. But they don’t want the church life of their parents and grandparents, with prayer meetings, “adult” Bible study and committee meetings.
Age span development: post 18, not necessarily single or educated
Consistency: of speakers, leaders, faces, comforts, point of contact, place of connection
Balance of self-leadership & mentoring
Rallying point: common mission or cause (THREADS: Get Uncomfortable)
Friends are “Near Us”: need some connection of people when they come back from being away at college. Probably most important for maintaining with early college students who have gone away. Also need to work on the HS/post-grad transition happening before students leave for school
They’re not “kids”
Respect their time