Too often, our goal is to transition our kids into a church service, rather than the life and body of the Church (with a capital C). High school grads’ biggest need is remaining connected to the body of Christ, not necessarily our local congregation or ministry (although that would be great, as well).
Whether or not your students leave for school, intentionally fostering a connection in your ministry (and/or a church near their campus) beyond just you and their parents is vital. Far too often we fail to recognize that truly loving our students requires us to help them connect beyond us individually. Here are some practical ways you might do this:
1. Have a dinner/barbeque for your graduates, but invite a couple or two from the church as well. This couple is there just to hang out and talk. Nothing more. Age doesn’t matter, but this couple needs to be relational, down to earth, and mature in faith. This can provide an opportunity for your students to connect with people they never would’ve otherwise. Simply introduce them as your friends and let your students know they wanted to be there because they were going to be praying for them as they transition into the next phase of life. (I’d recommend telling your students individually, keeping it authentic and relational; if articulated in a group setting it could create awkwardness, with the perception of being forced.) Emails and phone numbers may be exchanged, but this should happen naturally rather than institutionally.
2. Host a weekend retreat for your graduates where you invite some older, more mature adults. Again, age doesn’t matter but they should have the same qualities as the folks you invite to the barbeque. Have a lot of down time just to hang out, but have these people share their testimonies at some point. It’s important that they articulate their personal story and are careful not to give the typical “I want to tell you all the things you should not do,” teacher-to-pupil type of testimony. They are real people with real stories. Graduates can apply their stories to themselves. They need to see these peoples’ hearts (besides, they already know what not to do).
3. Meeting with our students one-on-one is vital, but sometimes it’s better if we’re not the ones they meet with. There are times when another leader in the church can help them just as much as we can, possibly even more. As much as possible, connect your students to these other people. When an issue comes up in a conversation with a student, talk to her about it—but at some point let her know there’s someone you want them to talk to who’s dealt with the same thing. If your student trusts you, she’ll meet with this person.
In all of these situations, constantly pray that mentoring relationships are being formed with young people beyond just you.