Being a parent is extremely interesting on so many levels. Every time you turn around, you’re never quite sure what you’ll encounter. It could be a pleasant surprise, like seeing my sons helping with household chores or being greeted at the door by my daughter with a hug and kiss when I arrive home from work. However, as much as every parent loves these sweet moments, raising children comes with their fair share of “not so sweet” moments as well. For instance, the walls of our home, at times, are transformed into the canvas where my three-year-old daughter displays her artwork and my golf clubs also double as rock hitting devices, while the windows of my shed serve as targets. Bottom line, my children have an uncanny knack for taking an object that’s meant for one purpose and using it for another.

During my time in ministry and as a Student Pastor, as odd as it may sound, I’ve actually witnessed many churches approach student ministry the exact same way. While it’s completely unintentional, student ministries very often accomplish the very opposite of their intended purpose.

Student Ministry is still a relatively new concept. It was developed a little over 60 years ago as a way to better connect students to the church. To this day, that still remains the overall purpose, but too many times, students often feel separated or alienated from the church their student ministry is trying to connect them to. I’ve encountered countless numbers of students who have graduated high school and have no idea about their next step within the church. They may have grown up in the church, but very often the only thing they were a part of during that time was their student ministry or youth group. While they felt a connection with that part of the church, they struggle to feel that same connection with the church itself. This disconnect often leaves students feeling like they don’t have a place within the church once they graduate high school, which is one of the leading causes for why students fall away from the church as they enter college and their young adult years.

Below are several ways you can ensure that your student ministry is connecting students to your church and not just a youth group, which will also help students understand their next steps in their faith and within your church.

1. The vision of the student ministry should always be the same as the vision of the church

This seems like an obvious statement and one that’s easily accomplished. But in all actuality, separate vision within student ministry occurs at an alarmingly high rate and it’s where the greatest disconnect exists between it and the church. If a student ministry operates underneath its own vision, it separates itself from the church, creates a silo and, in a sense, becomes a church within a church. This silo mentality works to create an attitude of  “us and them”. No student ministry should ever attempt to create it’s own identity or vision. The job of every student ministry is to understand and operate within the vision of the church and to see that vision executed in the lives of students.

2. The process used to connect adults to your church should be the same process used to connect students

Whether it’s first time guests, salvation, membership, volunteer teams or leadership development, every church has set of systems and processes in place to effectively and efficiently help people take their next step in their faith or within the church. If your church has these processes in place and they work, do not spend your valuable time and energy developing your own processes for students. Use what the church already has in place. Using the same processes as the church works to create unity and synergy throughout the entire organization. This will ensure that your time will not be spent developing processes to connect students, rather your time will be spent actually connecting students and helping them take their next steps.

3. Connect students to volunteer on teams that exist beyond student ministry

Do you want and need students to serve within your student ministry? Absolutely! But, all too often, student ministry is viewed as the training ground where students are developed before they are ready to serve on adult teams. This mentality has never made sense to me. The training ground that prepares and develops students is not the student ministry; it’s the church! Treating your student ministry like a training ground implies that it is less than, not as important and that a lower level of excellence is tolerable. Your student ministry should be executed with the same level of excellence as anything else within the church. To do this, you need capable and trained adults serving within your student ministry and you need students serving throughout your church alongside capable and trained adults. Getting students connected to church-wide volunteer teams ensures their development and it works to strengthen and build the church.

Student ministry exists to connect students to the church and is extremely vital to the health and strength of every church. However, all too often, our approach to student ministry works against its intended purpose. Work to align your student ministry with the vision and mission of your church in every way and it will always be a value-add. Student ministry should create a pathway that connects students to the church, rather than be a program that funnels them away from the church.