As a youth worker and then as a parish volunteer, my favourite evening of the year was the evening we had the 18 year olds round for dinner before they headed off to university. We’d cook a huge meal, offer them a wine or beer for the very first time, eat until we couldn’t meal and talk about their hopes, dreams, fears and excitements for their upcoming trip to university. They thought it was about the food… For us it was all about having conversations around this next stage of their lives.
The exact numbers are disputed, but its reckoned that a huge number of students who rock up at university calling themselves Christian fail to connect with church while they’re there. For many this marks the end of their relationship with church for the rest of their lives.
The young people that we may have spent 7 years investing in, a significant proportion of them may not end up connecting to a church when they get to university. They may shelve their faith, for months, weeks, years… forever? I don’t think that’s what any of us want for them.
So how can we help our youth group be the ones who transition well?
Prep them well
Before students head off to university they’ll go on a thousand shopping trips for bedding, pans, and cutlery. They know there’s loads they need to get sorted, from finance to food, text books to towels. So why should their faith be any different? What do they need to be preparing in advance for this next adventure?
Why not consider running some special sessions for the future students in your group to give them space to talk about this new experience they’re headed into? A chance to pray for one another? A chance to think through the challenges and opportunities ahead?
Fusion have pulled together some resources to help you do just this.
They also have the following resources available
Gift packs and resources for young people – with things to help them think about university life, faith and mission
Church Link Up Service – young people can sign up to receive information and invitations to churches in their university town. A great way of getting them hooked up and linked in before they’ve even packed their bags and headed out the door.
And they’re not the only ones:
Starting uni Resources – a whole host of resources to help young people navigate starting university (and some resources for youth leaders as well)
CU Link Up – a way for young people to link up with their university CU before they even arrive. Many even run residentials bfore term starts so young people can get away with the CU and make friends before the madness of Freshers week.
Student Christian Movement
Freshers’ Hub – all sorts of resources for young people who are off to become freshers
Free Freshers Packs – free and easy to order – another great gift for your young people
Fresh – Krish Kandiah
(Know of other great resources? Leave a comment below!)
Keep in Touch
It’s tempting to think our role is over once we’ve launched these 18 year olds out into the big wide world, but one of the best things we can do as youth leaders is to keep the contact open. That might mean:
• sending a card for their new room
• asking for prayer requests once a term
• heading off to visit them for a day
Or it might be members of your congregation. There’s a brilliant group of retired ladies based at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Four Marks. They call themselves the Fairy ‘Cogs’-mothers. They’ve taken it on themselves to adopt the students of the church, sending them birthday cards and Christmas cards. Asking for prayer requests. Sending out chocolatey care packages. All to help the students remember they have a home church who loves them. Maybe your parish could do the same?
Chances are they’ll have new experiences and questions to ask about faith as they journey into university life – a connection to the church that loved them through their teenage years can be a powerful resource in these times.
Stay in for the Long Haul
Sometimes the young people we send out to university don’t connect with church or faith groups in their first year, or even their second year. By keeping in contact, connecting with them when they’re home, continuing to be available to chat about life and faith with them, we keep the door open to them to continue to connect with church and with faith. We’re in this for the long haul – not just freshers’ week!
These days, with pressures on recruitment and finances, it’s not uncommon for young people to return back to their parental home after graduating, sometimes briefly and sometimes for several years. Knowing their church family is here, waiting to welcome them back can be such an encouragement for young people in the midst of this.
And.. Don’t forget about the parents!
This is a HUGE time of change for parents, watching their children grow up and leave home for the first time. It’s a key time for your church to think about supporting them.
Care for the Family have a great Top Tips Leaflet free for download for parents facing the ‘Empty Nest’ for the first time