Graduating from the Youth Group We Knew

We are expanding our youth group’s reach.  Right now.  Today.  Here and now.  You’re in on the ground floor.

For years, we have worked hard to get our students to high school graduation.  We have constantly implemented plans and programs to help our juniors and seniors stay engaged in youth group, giving them special opportunities, unique chances to lead, and a special focus as they move through their senior year.  The challenge has been once they graduate, we send them off to work, the military, or to school, and they are gone.  We have had zero plans for staying in touch, for helping them, for supporting them.  We’ve tried to get them into healthy churches or college ministries, but it all ended there.  We’ve loved on students when they are home, stayed in touch by Facebook, and cared when we could.  But we have not had a specific plan.  Yet.

This week, as I’ve been at the Sticky Faith summit at Fuller Seminary, we’ve discussed what it takes to help students have a faith that matures and grows after they leave youth group.  One of the things that has settled in is our need to create a system and plans for helping students to graduation, through graduation, and then beyond into the next phase of life.  We are going to figure this one out.  We have to work with students, parents, and leaders to design ways to extend our ministry forward into the early years of adulthood.

Here are some of the reasons we have to extend our ministry:
1. Adolescence has extended itself from around 18-20 years old to the late 20’s for most people growing up today.
2. Students headed out of high school are facing more challenges, faster, and with more pressure than ever before.
3. Students who have a healthy support system of people around them as they move from high school into the next phase of life, whatever it is, have a much higher success rate in their spiritual life.
4. As we begin to understand how to be a family of families (more on this another time), you simply don’t graduate from family.  You graduate from programs, but not family.  We say we are a family, and our goal is to serve as a family, so we’re going to need to figure this piece out.

What does this mean for our church?
1. We need to understand as parents that our kids need us as much as ever when they leave home after high school.  We are not done at 18.  Those days are gone (if they ever actually existed).
2. We need to understand as a family of families that it takes all of us to help our students.  We’re going to have to broaden our understanding that every member of our church is a youth pastor in their own right, with a stake in the life of every student.

It’s going to take some time, but I’m excited to see how God is going to use this to strengthen students, adults, and the Kingdom as a whole.  It’s going to be a great ride!