University is no longer the automatic default option for young people. In a world of rising fees, economic and employment uncertainty, new apprenticeships and opportunities, you may well find you have growing numbers of young people who leave school, and stick around locally to work or train through work.
They’re too old for your youth group, but there may still be an age gap between them and the wider congregation. So what do we do?
- Find space for them – If these young people have been lucky enough to have youth dedicated activities in church through their teen years, suddenly dropping out the end of that can be hard. All of a sudden the space that was theirs, is now closed to them. Hopefully during that period they’ve been able to build relationships into the intergenerational church community as well. But it’s still a big change. Have a think about what spaces there are in your church that could welcome them in during this new phase of life. Is there a 20s and 30s group? Is there a friendly house group? Is there an area of church with a strong team which would welcome them in with open arms. Encourage congregation members to mindfully offer invitations and make space for them as new adults within the church community.
- Recognise their new challenges and opportunities – You’ve known Johnny since he was a hyperactive 12 year old, now he’s heading into work every day, getting a pay check, training on the job and interacting fully in the adult world. This means he’ll be seeing himself differently, he’ll be seeing you differently. We need to honour the growth happening for these young adults – no longer treating them as teenagers but rather as adults. This can be practically worked out by seeing if they can embrace a bit more responsibility in church, maybe helping them find a mentor in church with employment experience to guide them, looking for growth in their skills and giftings and offering opportunities for them to use this in church. Give them opportunities for genuine, meaningful participation in church life.
- You’ve been her youth leader for years, and now you’re not. But what are you? You’re not automatically friends. You’ve had years of appropriate boundaries and distance. How on earth does that work now? It’s going to be clunky for a while. If there’s other people who can start to invest in relationship with these young people while you take a small step back that can be helpful. Making space allows the relationship structures to weaken and then be reformed and reshaped in time. This might mean you have to actively look for other adults in the congregation to build relationship with these young adults, letting you slowly take some steps back. Where possible, make this a smooth transition – rather than suddenly ignoring them on a Sunday morning! And realise it might take a year or two for the relationship to reform into a new format. That’s OK. Hang in there.
- Don’t forget them – as a whole church, above all else, don’t let these young adults drop off your radar. Not seen them in a few weeks? Drop them a message, invite them to lunch, ask how they’re getting on. Keep the door open to them and keep the communication lines open. It’s easy for these young people to drop down a gap in the system at this stage – they’re no longer the primary responsibility of the youth leaders, but they may not be on the radar of key pastoral people at church. Don’t let them fall through a gap in the system – they’re part of the family!