Monday, June 15, 2009

Is It Worth the Effort?

Recently, I posted an article on the YouthMinBlog during the week of "Ways to connect with students after they graduate." What follows is that article, entitled "Is It Worth the Effort?" I'd love to hear your thoughts on this...

They have been involved with your youth ministry for four years or more, but now they are leaving. Every year at this time it happens, and every year it becomes more difficult. These are not just high school students you barely know. These are students you have poured your life into. You have stayed up late talking about life, both serious and silly. You have indulged your taste buds by eating unhealthy food together. You have cried for them and with them. You have spent hours talking to God specifically about them. You have even taught a specific lesson or two geared directly at them. And now, they are on the verge of being young adults.

This transition for teenagers is never the same. Some students will never leave. Some students will go off to college and essentially never return. You might worry more about a few students after they go off to college than you did while they were in high school. For a few other students, your only thought is anticipation to see just how far they excel. But regardless of what you think the future will hold for these students, you want to stay connected to them.

I want to spend the rest of this article talking about some reasons to stay connected and discussing a few methods of connection.

Reasons to stay connected:
1. Positive influence
As a youth worker, we all know students who do not have any other positive influence in their life besides us. Their family life is rough and they struggle to make good friends. These students might need your influence more than any other. You have the chance to continue being a positive part of their life. They need regular reminders of God’s love for them, which you can offer.

2. Continue discipleship
Discipleship does not end when a student walks across a stage and receives a diploma. Your role as mentor might take on a different form, but it should not disappear. This student is about to enter a brand new world and their beliefs and core values will be put to the test. They need you (as their mentor) to be there helping them struggle, grow, and become more like Christ.

3. Stay informed
Another reason to stay connected to students after graduation is simply to stay informed about their life. You have just spent at least four years hearing about their relationships, grades, teachers, friends, family, hobbies and thoughts on culture. When they go away to college, this all stops. In order to hear about their decisions, future plans, or just about anything else you will need to stay connected to them at some level.

Methods of connecting:
1. Letters, notes
College students love to get mail, so write a letter and send it to them. You will not be able to write letters to every student (unless you do not want to get anything else done). But for a few students, this might be the more effective method of staying connected.

2. Email
Email is a great tool for connecting with college students. They check their email several times during the day and are usually quick to respond. And you can do a “copy and paste” to send the same email to several students within a few minutes. I recommend sending each email to an individual and not a bulk group of students. These messages do not have to be long, in fact just asking a few direct questions can help you stay connected.

3. IM
Some students use instant messaging to stay in touch. While you are in the office, turn on your IM and talk to students a few times throughout the day.

4. Facebook
Set aside a few minutes each week to write a message or write on someone’s wall. Unless the conversation involves information that does not need to be shared outside of your conversation, I recommend using the wall to talk. Writing on a person’s wall allows you to not only connect with that person, but also to be seen by anyone visiting their profile.

5. Phone calls
Calling a college student can be a lot like calling a high school student, which means this method does not have to take long either. This method is a little more personal and allows you to receive instant feedback or provide instantaneous encouragement.

6. Lunches
Take the students to lunch when they are in town. Ask them questions. Share moments from your life. Encourage them to remain faithful.

7. Talking
What I mean by “talking” is to simply talk with the student when you see them. When a student is home from college and at church on Sunday, make sure to step over and spend a few minutes talking. See how things are going, discuss the changes college brings, and make sure you mention how nice it is to see them.

Schedule regular times to “check in.” Add it to your schedule or you’ll probably notice that it does not happen, because we all know only a small percentage of students will ever initiate contact with us. Once you are able to connect with students post-high school, you will notice the relationship changes and matures - it might even deepen. Your time and energy will pay off as you watch your students become young adults.

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