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Every year I always see youth ministers take a shot at writing two types of post: “why are students leaving the church,” and ” the future of student ministry.” Both post always start some type of controversy, but never seem to offer any sort of practical solutions. However, did we ever stop to think that these two issues might actually be linked together? I believe that when we determine the course of where student ministry is going, we’ll also solve the issue of why students are leaving the church as well.
Everyone has their own opinion on why they believe students are leaving the church. I’ve read that its because of shallow ministries, lack of discipleship, poor theology, sex, and lack of spiritual growth from the student minister. I’ll be the first to admit that there are areas in student ministry that need to be improved on, but at the same time, I also believe we are all doing the best we can with what we got. If my heart is the same as your heart, then I know you’re giving all your blood, sweat, and tears to make sure your students know that true life is only found when they believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior. In my opinion, I believe none of the reasons listed above are why students are leaving the church.
The reason why we can’t come up with a viable answer is because we’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. Let me ask you a question: when you walk into a typical church, what age group are you most likely to see missing? The answer is the 20 somethings. The reason why students are leaving the church isn’t a student ministry issue, its a church issue. Churches all over America are dropping the ball when it comes to reaching out to this age group. I live in a college town. We have a major University that has around ten thousand students who attend it. On top of this, we have a local community college that has just as many students, if not more. Now guess how many churches in my city have a college minister? Zero. The real reason why students are leaving the church is because the church has simply stopped reaching out to them, not because of bad student ministry. So rest assured, as long as the church, as a whole, continues to ignore this problem, our students will continue to leave the church at an alarming rate.
So where do we go from here? If we accept this truth, what does it mean for the future of student ministry? I don’t believe developing a better student ministry is going to fix the problem, especially if the church won’t fix theirs. Now this doesn’t mean we don’t try to improve our ministries for our current students, but your efforts will be in vein for those who graduate. Now if the church is the problem, then that means it is also the solution, and student ministers get to be the ones who can lead in the change.
The future of student ministry is going beyond ministering to only middle school and high school students, but extending our reach and including college students in our scope. I believe this should be a natural progression for us for two reasons: (1) our culture has produced, and accepted, an extended adolescents phase, and since we work with adolescents, we should be willing to work with the next phase as well; and (2) we invest way too much into our students to just let them walk away from their faith. And truth be told, we’re being bad stewards of the gospel if we refuse to minister to our students in the next phase of their lives.
In the end, imagine what could happen if each one of us decided to protect our own investments, and include college ministry as a part of their work? I believe that the percentage of students leaving the church after they graduate would drop dramatically, because by protecting our own investments, we protect each others investments as well.
If you’re up to the task, but not sure how to go about it, I’ve got you covered. I’ll be writing a series of post called “Protecting Your Investment,” which will help you launch a college and career ministry at your church. I’ll admit, it’ll require some work at first, but I promise you, the pay off is well worth the effort.