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How to Keep Students in Church After Graduation

It is no secret that in today’s contemporary church, we are losing a mass exodus of students. Most statistics say that 80% or higher of students who grew up in church are leaving the church within two years after they graduate high school. When I first heard this statistic, I did not believe it. Then I started looking at our own church, and boy, is it true! It is so sad. Now, my goal is to beat this statistic for the glory of God. Just because most churches are losing their students does not mean we must surrender to this statistic. We must try to beat it. Here are a few of my thoughts on how we beat these statistics in fighting for the next generation:

  1. Encourage a family-oriented ministry – When I look at the age range of 18-25 year olds in the local church, I see a strong family backing. This is God’s first institution. The family must be teaching and modeling the Christian life basics! Too often, parents have put this off to the student pastor, and this is not the Biblical model. It is the parent’s responsibility, and the student pastor is called to come alongside. Try to encourage a family-oriented student ministry where you encourage the Biblical model for the family.
  2. Develop a local church focus – God’s institution for reaching our community is the local church. You must cultivate a level of community within the local church that the student desires. They need to see the family atmosphere. We have about 80 students in our student ministry, but only a small percentage attends the church faithfully. One thing that we are trying to do is to change that. We want more involved in our local church. If the student is not tied to the local church (not just the student ministry), do not expect them to stick around after high school. If they are already tied into the local church before graduation, they will just keep on going into the “big church.”
  3. Connect the student ministry to the church – Now, you might be saying, what does this mean? You need to connect the student ministry and the local church. In our case, sometimes, we are seen as a separate entity, and we are just a ministry of the local church. We are trying some new things to connect the two together. On the 5th Sunday night, we are trying to do a student takeover service. The students will completely run the show. It connects the adults to the students, the student ministry to the church, and the students to the church! They will get the chance to serve in the church, and this could be a step in getting them plugged into the local church.
  4. Implement a small group ministry – This is where the small group philosophy comes into play. This is where an adult comes and spends time investing in the student’s lives about their future and their walk with the Lord. The parents are the primary teacher, but there is nothing wrong with a small group leader coming alongside of a student to help and guide them in their personal growth!
  5. Teach your students to serve in the local church – If the students are already serving in the local church while as a student, they will more than likely continue when they get out of high school. Encourage your students to serve in the media ministry, children’s church, and nursery. I love seeing our students involved and serving in the local church while at a young age.
  6. Create a thriving single’s ministry – You must have something for the students to go, too. They come from a thriving, energetic, and hyped-up student ministry to the church, and they will get lost in the crowd. You must have a ministry that they can jump into. I think the major decisions of life are made between the ages of 17-26 years of age. Therefore, this ministry must be thriving, practical, and relevant to their needs.
  7. Create a doctrine-driven student ministry – Do not be afraid to teach doctrine. Too many student pastors are afraid of this word. Students need it! They need the in-depth Biblical preaching. They do not need a bunch of fluff from Google or a sermon Web site. They need some doctrine from the Word of God that God has given you to deliver to them. Now, I was ranting and raving here, but I hope you get the point. Teach your students doctrine and not just programs. If your students graduate loving and knowing the primary doctrines of the Bible, they will have little trouble adjusting to adult church life. The problem is that they are so used to programs that if there are not constant programs, they stop coming. Remember what you catch people with is what you keep people with. 
Now, these are just a few of the things that you could do in your church and student ministry to help limit the number of students who are dropping out of church. Now, you can do all of these things pretty well and still have some fall away. This is just the way of the world and the strength of the devil. This could save you from losing some though. Also, if you have any thoughts or want to share what you are doing in your church that helps, please share a comment below. 
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Josh Evans is the family pastor of the Oakleaf campus of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He has served in this position since June of 2014. Before that, Josh had been a mentor and pastor to students since 2006. Josh is passionate about seeing life change in families and teaching them the truths of the Word of God. Josh is a blogger, speaker, family pastor, and die-hard Duke Blue Devils fan! Josh and his wife Abby were married in February of 2008, and those years have been the happiest years of his life. Josh and Abby have two kids. Lynlee and Cameron. Josh and his family live in the Jacksonville, FL area. You can connect further with Josh on this blog or send him a direct email at joshhevans@gmail.com.