During my time in college while studying for my degree in Youth and Family Ministry, one of the questions I was asked frequently in my youth ministry classes was, “what do you think the biggest struggle is for today’s young Christians?” My classmates and I usually had similar answers- drugs, alcohol, differing world-views, rocky relationships with peers and parents, you name it. See, the majority of us grew up in churches, and were shaped by our youth ministers/ministries, so we assumed we knew what kids struggled with.
Man, were we wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, all of our answers were- and still are- applicable. I’ve encountered students who struggle with all of those things. However, now that I’m in ministry full-time (only for 4 months, but that changes a man), I’ve realized that me and my friends left a huge struggle out of our list: bridging the gap.
I’m not talking about bridging the gap between students and leaders, students and parents, or even students and other students. No. To me, one of the biggest “silent” issues facing young Christians today is being able to cross the gap from Children’s Church to “Adult Church.” In many churches, the Children’s ministry and Student ministry operate like totally separate churches from the main worship service and what the adults do. This causes a disconnect between the students in the Children’s and Student ministries and the adults in the main worship service. I truly believe that this disconnect is responsible for why 70% of young adults drop out of church after high school. Students aren’t taught how to transition from being a young Christian to a functioning church member.
In the church I serve (which is also the church I grew up in), we offer Children’s Church up until the 5th grade. Once a student hits middle school, we expect to see them in the worship service with the adults. However, no one has taken the time to prepare these students for being in an adult worship service. Just a few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend of mine who is also in youth ministry. This friend was sharing with me some struggles he was facing with getting students to desire to transition to the main worship service. To him, these students just couldn’t focus for the entire 60-minute service. He shared that they get easily distracted, bored, tired, and seem like they aren’t interested at all. After letting him vent and share, I shared with him that the students don’t seem interested because, well, THEY’RE NOT! Students are not being taught how to navigate these changes between elementary school and middle school, which translates to the same issue transitioning from high school to college/adulthood.
I know what you’re thinking, “this guy has a lot to say, but I don’t hear any solutions.” And you’re right. I don’t have this all figured out. What I do have, though, are 4 helpful tips that I believe can help you assist students through this transition.
- Discuss the differences between the different transition stages and show them how to maneuver them.
One of the biggest tips I can offer was shared with me while I was in college: model and discuss. Knowing is half the battle, so let’s start with this one. Whether it’s what to expect in the normal worship service, or what to expect after high school, discuss in depth what they should expect. Let them ask questions and answer them honestly and as best you can. As for model, show them how to act/react to the different stages. You’ve been there, they haven’t. The best leader is the one who walks alongside those they’re leading.
- Teach them how to actively listen.
This one is more for making the transition between church services. A sheet of paper with questions such as What do you think the main points are?, What confused you during the message?, and What questions do you have after hearing the message? Can go a long way in helping a young Christian make the transition. Follow up with them on the drive home from church and then again mid-week. This will help keep them engaged and feeling like they’re learning something. This can also help a high schooler going to college where they will be responsible for their own notes and tracking assignments.
- Be sure the older members are including them.
We’ve all been that awkward middle schooler who just wants to be accepted by the high school kids, and we need to remember that. Whether you’re a high schooler, twenty-something, or adult in the congregation, actively try to show that you care about the younger members. Genuinely ask them about what they’re learning. This will help them feel like they “belong” in the main worship service.
- Get plugged in.
One of the easiest ways to assist students during this transition is to get plugged in. Whether it be in the Children’s ministry, Student ministry, or young adult ministry, today’s young Christians are hungry for real, genuine interaction from their older counterparts. Flashy lights and high-energy worship may attract students, but genuine volunteers who desire to build relationships will get them to stay.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6)