3 Strategies for Life-Long Faith

Posted by Aaron Buer on April 18, 2019

I’ve been reading the Bible for something like 35 years now, and even though I believe the Bible is inspired by God and that He speaks through the words to us, it still amazes me how particular stories unsettle and challenge me.

How is it that I know these stories and they still rock me?!?

Maybe you know what I’m talking about.

This week I was reading a story from 2 Chronicles about King Joash:

Joash was seven years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem forty years…Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the years of Jehoiada the priest. (2 Chronicles 24:1a, 2)

This young king was a good king. He did what was right.

That is, until his father figure and mentor, a priest named Jehoiada died.

After that. Things got a little sideways.

After the death of Jehoiada, the officials of Judah came and paid homage to the king, and he listened to them. They abandoned the temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and worshiped Asherah poles and idols. Because of their guilt, God’s anger came on Judah and Jerusalem. Although the Lord sent prophets to the people to bring them back to him, and though they testified against them, they would not listen. (2 Chronicles 24:17-19)

Joash went off the rails.

If you read the story, it actually gets much worse.

It’s kind of a depressing story.

Sadly, it reminds me of an all too familiar narrative in our churches.

Students grow up in the church. They are involved.

They go to youth group and then when they leave our churches they walk away from Church completely.

According to the Fuller Youth Institute, 50% of students walk away from church after high school.

FIFTY PERCENT!

That’s a scary statistic.

We are coming up on graduation season.

Most of us will soon be scheduling graduation services where we will recognize our graduates and hand them a book.

Here’s the deal: They will need more than a book if they are going to be on the right side of that 50%.

Here are a few strategies that have worked for us as we seek to build life-long faith in our students.

1. Connect Them

I’ve read that students who don’t connect to a church or ministry within the first month of their post-high school experience will most likely not attend church regularly for a long time.

We all know how important staying connected to a Jesus community is, especially in college, in the military or whatever your graduates are planning to do next year.

Something you can do as a church or student ministry is research solid churches in the areas where your students will be going and give them some good options to check out.

If you want to go above and beyond, reach out to those churches and ministries and ask them to connect with your student(s) and possibly even arrange transportation for them.

When the church or ministry is within driving distance, we often ask our high school small group leaders to go with their student the first time.

This creates a helpful bridge.

I know, I know, it sounds like a lot of work but is there a better way to spend a few hours than making sure your graduates have good onramps to solid churches and ministries wherever they are going next?

It’s crucial!

This is a project our student ministry team takes on every summer.

The first few summers were difficult but we have been keeping a list of churches we resonate with and every year it gets a little easier.

2. Encourage Them

The first semester of college can be bewildering.

There is so much pressure and everything is new and confusing.

It can be a very discouraging time.

As a church, we do four things to encourage our graduates.

  1. We hold a capstone event at the end of their senior year in which we work with parents to recruit 5 or 6 adults in a student’s life to write them an encouraging letter. And we’re not talking about a yearbook blurb here. We’re talking about the kind of letter you keep for the rest of your life—the kind that you pull out in the lonely moments of your first semester of college to keep you going.
  2. We send a care package to all of graduates during the first month of college. This includes snacks, swag, a letter they wrote to themselves at that end of senior year retreat and also letters from their small group leader, our staff and anyone else we can recruit. It’s a powerful reminder for our students that their church still remembers them and is still behind them.
  3. Our small group leader strategy in high school calls for a 5th year in which leaders don’t show up for programming but they do stay engaged with their graduated students through text, FaceTime, and if they are in the area, hanging out in person. The ongoing connection with a mentor is a huge encouragement for our students.
  4. During Christmas break, we hold a reunion event. The purpose of this event is threefold: To reconnect small groups in the hopes that they might rekindle community, to give our graduates an opportunity to share their learnings with our current seniors and to eat delicious food. I mean come on. Food is important.

The point here is that the kids who are graduating out of your student ministry will need lots of encouragement if they are going to stay on track with their faith.

Prepare Them

Years ago, my boss challenged me with an unsettling question.

He asked, “How many of our graduated seniors are still following Jesus and still connected to a church?"

My answer was, “Uh…I’m not sure.”

He followed up with, “That’s not good enough.”

And I admitted, “You’re right.”

That conversation propelled me toward a quest to better prepare our students for life beyond our student ministry.

It led me to revamp our senior year experience to focus more on preparation.
Now, we do things like,

  • Finding My Future to help students understand how God has gifted and wired them and what future trajectories might fit their uniqueness.
  • A Senior Retreat in the fall to set them up for all they will experience and all the decisions they have to make during their senior year.
  • Workshops during the year on topics like,
    • Money and budgeting
    • How to pick the right major
    • How to deal with your angry atheist professor
    • How to still be a Jesus follower at age 25
  • A senior retreat in the spring to encourage them and set them up to win in the fall.

I’m not saying that you need to do all these things or your students will walk away from faith.

However, you may want to consider revamping your senior year experience a bit to fit the specific needs of your students.

Wrap Up

Let’s wrap this up. King Joash...he didn’t do so well without his mentor.

Half of our students don’t do so well after they leave our churches.

It doesn’t have to be that way. I’m convinced that the statistic can be much, much lower in your church but it will take some intentionality and focus.

What are you going to do to connect, encourage and prepare your students for life-long faith?

Topics: Advice

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