In our latest article we talked about how every year, high school students head off to college and often leave the church. While this is a serious issue, the good news is that there are lots of things that we can do to make sure that this doesn’t keep happening.
It’s very important that churches keep in mind that a youth group is full of future college students. To that end, churches and especially youth ministries should have an intentional strategy to keep students engaged in church when they leave for college.
In this article, we are going to talk about some specific things that churches who are sending off students can do to help them continue to grow spiritually wherever their university is. Doing these things can transform church members into Student Champions.
Here are five characteristics of Student Champions who are sending off students to college:
- They equip students with a missional mindset before leaving
- They put students in leadership positions
Emphasize to students that if what they’ve learned in youth group about Jesus stays in the youth group, they’ve missed the point. The Gospel should be shared with other people! During their high school years, ask students to think of themselves as missionaries in their classes, showing the love of God to everyone. Students should be actively cultivating passions for spreading the love of God; especially during their final years in their youth groups.
During their last few weeks before college, think about formally “commissioning” the students as missionaries to their college campuses. This brings the habits of missional thinking established in high school to full fruition, cementing the mindset that students don’t merely go to church – they are the church.
Students should be ready to take positions of leadership by the time they get to college. If they are serious about their faith and growing deeper spiritually, they will naturally find themselves in leadership positions because they will be making disciples!
The sending church can prepare students for this and other future leadership roles by having them practice leading others in high school. Some opportunities you could give your students would be to:
- teach or lead small groups of middle-school students
- mentor other students the same age who are just beginning their walks with God
- serve on worship teams
It’s a good idea to generally take a hands-off approach, and show them how to go to the Bible and to prayer when they have questions about leadership.
In college, students will likely face challenges to their faith from professors, graduate assistants, friends, and others that they encounter. This isn’t something to fear! Often, asking difficult questions about faith can lead to important discussions and a higher view of God.
Ask students to clearly and concisely articulate what they believe and why through the writing of their personal testimonies, describing how God has been working in their lives on a personal level.
Once they understand why they believe in God personally, give students resources for studying intellectual questions about God. Here are three starting points:
- evidence for Jesus’ resurrection
- the reliability of the Biblical manuscripts
- the relationship between science and faith
Finally, when students are leaving, recognize that even though your relationship with them is changing, you still have a relationship! It’s important that the sending church continue to support students while they are in college, and there are a lot of meaningful ways to do this.
- Set up a group text for students
- When students come home for breaks, invite them over for a meal and fellowship
- Ask church members to “adopt a student.” These members could:
- Pray for the students daily
- Send them a simple text with a note and a Bible verse on a regular basis
- Serve as an accountability partner
You want the student to know that members of their church body are always there for them, and you want to encourage spiritual growth through mentoring them over their first semester.
These four traits characterize Student Champions. If we want to see college campuses transformed for Jesus Christ, we should begin with the best missionaries we can find – college students themselves. If our high schoolers are going to become missionaries, though, we need to be very intentional and prayerful as we help them mature in their faith.
By keeping God in the center of our youth ministry and continuing to care for our new college students, churches can spread the love of Jesus among them and have an incredible impact on campus and eventually the world!