Today, our writer Gina Mueller shares insightful and practical thoughts on building bridges between students and the rest of the church body. Gina will be speaking at our upcoming workshop next week! Click here for more details.
Connecting Students to the Whole Body
This year marked a decade in Student Ministry for me. As I reflect on where I started, who I was during my first year of ministry, and how different my leadership is now, I realize there are invaluable things that have been formed in my character and leadership that money can’t buy and classes can’t teach. Experience is earned over time. Wisdom is gained, not just from wild success, but from failure as well.
One of the (many) differences now compared to then for me personally – one that goes more than surface deep – is how I value the success of our whole church, not just our youth ministry. How I long for students to be connected to the WHOLE body, not just deeply connected to other teenagers and our amazing leaders who are discipling them. How I would even defer to the bigger picture, the whole, the WE over ME. How much I want the vision of our church at large to ooze through everything we do with students. How much joy I get when I see students serving other ministries within the church – children’s ministry, hospitality, tech, worship. And how devoted I am to seeing students do the hard work of bridging the generations, of being present on Sunday mornings, of valuing things that aren’t just about them, and learning how to belong to a church for the long haul – not just a part of the church where their preferences are met.
We’ve all seen the statistics of the drastic number of our church kids who walk away from church AND from Jesus when they hit college. I’m convinced it’s because we have entertained them into apathy and given them a fantastic program that is all about them, but haven’t actually discipled them. I’m also convinced that ONE (not only) of the solutions is helping students become a real part of the body at a young age.
We have created a culture where we have freedom to try new things and freedom to fail. So we are playing around with some ideas on how to do this well in our context.
Here’s a brief look at a few of things we are doing to get students connected to the whole (outside of our Student Ministry):
- We intentionally don’t have a program for middle or high school students on Sunday Mornings. For us, it seems Sundays is a prime opportunity for them to plug into worship with their parents/families, to serve another ministry of our church, and to rub shoulders with other generations. I’m a firm believer that everything doesn’t have to be about them all the time (which perhaps combats entitlement just a smidge), so even if the worship style or message isn’t their preference, I’m fully ok with that. I also love when students get to imitate their parents. It’s never a bad idea to let students see their parents worship!
- Because students have a pack mentality and still want to connect with each other on Sundays, we’re trying something new this year. We just launched a connecting place for students on Sundays IN BETWEEN services – to simply pop in for a few minutes, grab a doughnut, connect with each other and a few leaders that love them. It gives them a simple place to belong and feel connected. No program, just connecting. The worship service is the larger win for us on Sundays, not what we are doing!
- A couple times a year, we intentionally teach the Sunday sermon series, tailored and repackaged for students on Wednesday nights. This fall, we stole the series on money and giving and used it in strategic ways with our students. Not only did they give in radically generous ways to a cause we set up, but about a fourth of our high school students committed to TITHING (big church) as a result. Bam!
- About once a year, we love to bring in our senior leader or another pastor to come teach. Again, any connection to the larger church is a win. It also gives our senior leader an opportunity to tell students how much they matter to the body as a whole! (Unashamedly scheming!)
- If there are church-wide serving events or other big things we can plug into as a student ministry, we do. For example, we used to have our own baptism service for students. Now, we fold into the Sunday baptisms, but we are intentional. Our staff or leaders get to do the baptizing of our students whenever possible to capitalize on relationship.
I know many of you are trying things in your contexts, too! Lets share ideas and learn from each other!
How are you getting students plugged into your church as a whole? Leave a comment below!