Have you ever heard a graduating senior ask you, “now, what do I do?” or “where do I go now”? At Cedar Run, we began to experience more students graduating and moving into college starting the 2nd year I was there. It was at that point where we decided we needed to have something for them.
As Youth Pastors, it is our job to have strategic plans for our middle and high school youth. However, what happens to your youth when they graduate high school? Do you have a plan for them then? If you work at a large or mega-church, you usually do not have to worry about a plan for them after they graduate as there is probably a Staff person who is in charge of that. However, most of us reading this blog do not work at a large or mega-church. We work at smaller to medium size churches where there is no designated staffer to take the college and beyond students. Therefore, it is up to us to do something with these students so that they can continue to be challenged in their faith and have a group to call their own at church.
But, just as we began to identify this great new growth potential for our church, we had a series of questions to answer
- Who is in charge of this group?
- What do you do with them?
- How can the group grow?
Who is in charge of the college group?
As I mentioned before, in a perfect world, you would be the Youth Pastor ministering to the middle and high school students. Then, as your graduating seniors move off to college or the workforce, you would pass them along to a College and Young Adult Director who takes them on and lead them. However, working at smaller to medium size churches, we do not often have a College and Young Adult Director. There is just an Associate Pastor or Senior Pastor who are often overworked as it is. Therefore, I believe, it rests on the Youth Pastors shoulders to take these students to the next level. That does not mean you have to actually lead it, but it does mean you have some involvement.
The reason I believe you have to have some involvement is because you are the leader they are most familiar and comfortable with. At Cedar Run, we have tried many times to take myself out of the picture because I have my hands full with youth oriented stuff. However, we have seen that until these students feel comfortable with the leadership in place, it is hard to have no involvement in the strategy and direction of the group. Even if all you do is show up and let others lead, your presence is necessary as it will be a draw if you are there.
Therefore, my recommendation is for you to organize a team of leaders that you are involved with to minister to the College and Young Adults in your church. This is our 5th year doing this ministry and only this year do I feel that we have a great mix of leaders involved. It consists of our Associate Pastor, a volunteer leader and myself. Together we mapped out who is in leading each week and what we will be doing. By having the three of us involved, not all the weight and responsibility rest on your shoulders. In fact, the great thing about this year is that this is the first time that I have had a minor role. Most weeks, I just promote our meetings and encourage the college and young adults to come. It has been a huge weight off my shoulders and been better for our program.
What do you do with them?
At Cedar Run, our main youth meeting is during the church service. So, when high school students move into college or the workforce, our main hope is to integrate them into the main service so that they can feel apart of the adult community. It’s not a hard integration as they spend time in the service most week and are involved in the work of the overall church throughout the year. But, in the same light, this is a niche group where this demographic has their own set of issues and challenges. How do you minister to them and meet their needs so that they feel that Cedar Run is the place for them to grow and mature as a believer?
The problem with this group is that it is not a consistent group. You have students who go away for the entire year only to return and work long hours or go on vacation or help out at Christian camps. Until you get some young career adults, who have more stable lives, involved it is a group that is often times in flux. Because of this, you may have a ton of young adults one week only to have half the size the following week. In the five years we have had a College and Young Career group at Cedar Run, I feel that we have tried almost everything to draw interest and excitement. We have tried:
- Donuts and coffee before Church, then sit together
- Strong discipleship based teaching times on Sunday night or during the week.
- Overnights to the beach
- Social functions like Pool Parties or a night out at a Town Center.
Although they have been moderately successful, they have worked only for a short time. They attracted some people, but for the amount of potential involvement we had at our Church, they failed to help out for the long term. It was only through trying these activities, polling more students and getting more input that we developed a program that works well for us.
This year, we began a more fellowship-based time centered around home-cooked food and a great discussion based teaching. The first 25 minutes of our time together is a time of fellowship and community building through eating a meal. And, not just an ordinary, make your own subs or pizza meal. We have a husband and wife come in each week and make items like fajitas, chicken dishes and pasta. I wish I could say that I came up with this idea, but my friend Chris Craddock over at the King’s Chapel told me that he does this with his college and young adult program. For him and us, this has been a huge success. After all, if you were a college student or young adult with limited money, wouldn’t a free meal that is great tasting and not your normal college food, sound appealing?
After we have dinner together, we have either our Associate Pastor or our volunteer leader lead them in a discussion based topic. We have learned that if we just give another “sermon” to them, they are not that interested. They want to learn about Christ and the Bible. But, they also want to be able to process the information and digest it. These are general questions that challenge them to think without them having to be too vulnerable. We have found that the students and young adults do not like to share too much, especially if it is a new ministry. They want to feel people out before they share who they really are. That is why we ask questions more centered around the topic rather than “share the time you failed” questions.
Overall, this format has worked very well for us. We still do social events (such as a Thanksgiving and Christmas time-frame gatherings) and will try to do an overnight once in while. But, this main meeting time has become our bread and butter that has gone over very well.
How can the group grow?
As I mentioned above, we have been doing a College and Young Career group at Cedar Run for 5 years now. The problem for us has been growing the group. Each year, our high school program graduates more and more students. However, each year our College and Young Career group has stayed about the same size. There has been a ton of energy and excitement around the group, but when it comes time to have our weekly gatherings, the size of the group has been small.
That began to change this year. The reason why I believe we have experienced this change and started to see more growth is because
- We found the right format for us.
- We have finally found a core group of students to run with.
The change in format has been a huge help for us, but just as important is the identification of 4-5 core young adults to become the driving force of the group. Before we identified this current core group of young adults, we were always trying to cater to who we thought would be the leadership of the group. Whatever they thought would be good and desirable was what we wanted to try to do. After all, they were a great group with real leadership potential who were going to take the group to the next level. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts to please and cater to them, they never fully got on board with the program. We tried to force them into the Core. But, instead of finding a core to run with, we ended up floundering around a bit as we were waiting for them to step up, which they never did.
This year, we changed our approach. Before we officially kicked off our summer program, we polled the college students and young adults as to what they would want to do and be about. We did not just identify some people we believed would be the leaders. We talked to a bunch more and got their input. Then, our Leadership Team formed the program around those thoughts and some of our own, hoping that what we put together would draw students and young adults. After we did this, we waited to see who would stand out and be committed and excited about the program.
The amazing thing was that our core group was identified through this process. It was those people who were faithful, available and teachable (didn’t we talk about these type of people before?). We have identified 4-5 young adults who are truly excited about this and want to take this program to the next level. Because of this, we are better able to invest our time and energy into these few and build around them. We are talking to them and getting their input on ideas and opportunities and they are the ones promoting and getting others involved. In addition, they are inclusive people who make newcomers feel welcome and apart of the group. It is our hope to continue to build around this core in the fall and create a sustainable ministry year round.
Through a lot of trial and error, I believe we have finally found the right fit for us and our College and Young Career Ministry. After a period of stagnation, we are now seeing growth and more potential. It is because we started investing and running with a few and finding the right format for us. Now, we still have a long way to go, but we are off on the right track for the first time in years.
What about you and your program?
TAKE A MINUTE and…
- Evaluate where you stand with a College and Young Career Program. Do you have a program up and running? Do you have a role in it? If so, what is your role and involvement? If you have a program, how is it going? Do you have a format that is working and effectively meeting the needs of your college and young career?
- Identify a Core Group. Remember the key principle of Faithful, Available and Teachable. If you already have one, how are they doing? Do you need to add to it?