I thought we could do it on our own.
My wife and I were both youth workers. We had grown up in healthy homes. We were self-aware. We were ready to launch our child into life after high school.
Except we weren’t enough.
Don’t get me wrong, our son needed us, but he also needed something more than just us. He needed someone to help him navigate the waters of this complex transition into a new reality.
Someone who knew him more by his first name than his last name.
Someone who shared God’s vision for his future.
Someone who could help him enter a new community of faith with new practices of faith that were more than just the activities of his home.
He needed us, but he also needed someone else who shared a passion for our plan to help him transition into a life of faith after high school.
He’s probably a lot like the teenagers you’ve seen launch into the lives after high school.
When we did the Hemorrhaging Faith research project in 2011, we discovered that how teens manage life transitions played a significant role in long term faith formation. And while there were a number of transitions that were consequential, the move from high school to life after high school seemed particularly important.
A large number of teens who walked away from faith did so during this time. Eight years later, when we finished Renegotiating Faith, which looked specifically at that transition, we discovered that if a young person had someone who stayed in touch with them during the transition from grade 12 to university to help them make a connection to a community of faith in their new environment (before the end of September), that young person was over four times more likely to be in a community of faith at the end of that year than a person who did not have a mentor.
FOUR TIMES MORE LIKELY!
Ideally, this person ideally has been journeying with the student all along. But to be honest, what we learned is that anyone can step in and offer simple care and encouragement to connect with a faith community in their new environment. And our friends over at Power to Change have a great resource that you can use to help bring you up to speed on connecting with students. Access the mentorship resource here.
So here’s the thing… many youth ministries have some sort of strategic plan for mentoring students in grades 7-12. That is great. But the most important part of that plan may be what happens from June to September after a student graduates.
This is where we fail.
The research is clear. The transition matters…but only 25% of youth ministries surveyed have a strategic plan for mentors to help their students through those 3 months of transition.
Youth workers, we are collectively failing. We need to think better about helping our teens prepare for faith and life after high school. We need to plan to help our teens engage faith in their life after high school.
And we don’t need to do it alone.
We need to see this season as a bridging season…where we leverage our maturity, trust, relationships, and resources to create space for our students in new faith communities.
We need to build partnerships with organizations and churches in these new communities that share our values and passion for the faith formation of our kids.
We need to be the body of Christ, beyond just the walls of our own ministry.
So practically, how can we do that?
1. Evaluate the strategic plan you currently have in place for your ministry to intentionally place your students in new communities of faith.
Do you have one?
If not, why not?
What is one thing you could do differently this next year?
2. Find out where your grade 12 students plan to be next year and begin to research possible churches or campus ministries that may be present in the environments your students are moving to.
Look at the websites of campus ministries like Power to Change to get contact information and reach out to them and see if they are present at the campuses your students will be attending.
3. Prepare your mentors to practically journey with your grade 12 students through the summer and into September.
Give them questions to ask, and create space for them to be relationally available through the end of September.
Where possible, budget resources for those leaders to visit their students in their new environment, and actually take them to church or a campus ministry.
I know, it sounds like a lot, but a lot is at stake.
Youth ministries have been getting better and better at creating structures and developing resources to facilitate mentoring relationships for the students in their care.
More and more ministries are embracing the priesthood of all believers and decentralizing “shepherding” to other adults who care for kids. I love it.
But more ministries need to think strategically about mentoring through the three months from the end of June to the end of September for students graduating from their ministry.
What you do in those three months may have a more significant impact on the long term faith formation of that teen than the previous three years.
Helping students transition into a life of faith beyond our ministry matters.
One of the great ways you can support your students in this season is by connecting them to great scholarship funding. For example, our friends over at Power to Change – Students are offering a NEXT Steps Scholarship for those heading off to post-secondary in Ontario and the Impact Award for students going to school in Western Canada.