Lately, our student ministry team has been redefining our wins. Also, we’ve been reading through 7 Practices of Effective Ministry. Basically, we’re kind of obsessed. It’s been a great exercise for me and my team. Here’s what we’ve come up for the ultimate win in our student ministry: We win when a student is still following Jesus at age 25. Yeah, that’s right. It’s an intimidating goal. A little about the wording…
- We decided that what really matters is that our students are still pursuing Jesus and still connected to a church long after they leave our student ministry.
- We chose the word “follow” because we’re not just after belief. We’re after discipleship.
- We chose the word “still” because we want kids and students to develop faith in our family ministry…not after.
- We chose the number 25 because most 25 year olds are done with or finishing up college and yet, 25 is typically before children. In other words, we want to fight against the trend of emerging adults putting their faith on the shelf in college and not reengaging it until it’s time to take their kids to church.
Obviously, this win is a lot harder to attain or measure than the typical win: “leading students into a relationship with Jesus.” Sure, this is part of what we want but it doesn’t speak to life-long faith, which is what we are really after.
In the process of redefining our win, we’ve been wrestling with the “how.” I’m confident that our win is correct, but how exactly do you get there? This is the part that I could be wrong about. Also, we haven’t wordsmithed any of this yet. I’m open to your ideas and your feedback, but here’s a rough cut of what I’m thinking:
I think the foundation is connection to a Jesus community. In other words, attendance matters. Belonging to the community matters. By all of this, I mean participation in your student ministry, but also connection to the congregation as a whole. FYI has repeatedly shown that students who are inter-generationally connected to their church have a much better shot at healthy faith as adults.
So, what’s the first step? Get students connected to your student ministry…and don’t you dare be a silo! Get them connected to the rest of the congregation as well.
GIVE THEM A GUIDE
I’ve come to believe that this strategy is the cornerstone. The three other pieces are important but this one is absolutely crucial. Kids and students need a guide. They need a mentor to show them what it looks like to follow Jesus. A caring adult who is willing to walk with a group of students over the long-haul is the secret sauce of life-long faith. Over and over again, I have seen how a great spiritual mentor can be a game-changer.
This is why small groups are a must and investing in volunteers is crucial. We don’t need chaperones. We need spiritual mentors.
HELP THEM GROW
The third piece is a growing personal faith. Students who develop their own spiritual habits (or disciplines) are much more likely to continue pursuing Jesus in life after your student ministry. In other words, it’s imperative that students begin to engage Jesus in their own world. If their faith only exists at church, then we have a problem. We must find ways for them to integrate their faith. This is difficult because developmentally, students will naturally compartmentalize. But, if we’re serious about promoting life-long faith, we must find ways to break down the walls of compartmentalized faith by helping kids bring their faith home and to school.
LET THEM SERVE
For years, the word that has defined our high school ministry’s strategy has been “Express.” We desire for our students to begin expressing their faith. This shows us that it is no longer their mom’s faith but their faith. When students step out and express their faith through service and leadership, we know we are on the right track However, we’ve learned that experience is often needed before expression. That’s why we focus a great deal on mission trips, serving in our children’s ministry and serving roles at our summer camp. And of course, because we desire inter-generational connections, we don’t have a student leadership team. We want our middle school and high school students to serve alongside adults in church wide ministries because then they will develop relationships with other generations.
Lastly, students want to serve and lead now. Don’t leave them on the sidelines! First off, this practice is hurting the faith of students all across the country. If they have to wait to practice their faith, they are far more likely to put their faith on the shelf. Secondly, students are full of passion, energy and ideas. Put them in coach! It’s no coincidence that most of the world’s faith revivals have begun with students.
So, we win in our student ministry when students are still following Jesus at age 25 and these four strategies are our pathway to getting there. What’s your win? What’s your path to winning? And…let me know if you have any genius wordsmithing ideas.
image credited to Erika via Flickr