GUEST COMMENTARY: A Ministry Gap When Teens Need Our Help the Most

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c. 2007 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) New high school graduates headed to college face more than the usual stress of transitioning into adulthood. They confront pressures to succeed in a competitive academic program, financial worries and anxiety about an unknown future.

These concerns are compounded for seniors coming from a church background, as they wonder if their faith will be strong enough to “stand up” to the world’s tests.

For students raised in church, college is when “the rubber meets the road,” beginning with surviving the liberal, often anti-religious onslaught from professors. A study published last month by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco revealed that 53 percent of college professors have a negative view of evangelicals. No wonder our graduates are worried!

In more than 25 years of working with high school students, I’ve witnessed both incredible joy and heart-wrenching pain. The hardest part is watching students once strong in their faith begin to waver and make poor decisions for the future.

On their own for the first time, out of parental sight and earshot, they express their independence as they navigate a multitude of decisions _ from class choices to budgeting to how they spend their spare time.

And during what is arguably the biggest transition of their lives, many no longer feel part of a church or religious youth group. A 2005 study showed that between 65 percent and 94 percent of high school students who were raised in the church stop attending church after they graduate. What a gut-wrenching statistic!

There is, in other words, a ministry gap when they need our encouragement the most.

So how should we prepare our graduates for these challenges?

We have a narrow window of opportunity to encourage them in their faith and to help them grow confident about their belief system. Now it is critical for mentors to step in, to give them time and the resources that will strengthen their faith.

Parents can make their graduate’s last summer break with the family unforgettable, ensuring a strong relationship with their son or daughter and earning his or her trust.

Youth leaders can hold small groups and social events during this “in-between” stage to answer questions about the future and model the habits and practices _ including independent Bible study _ that graduates will want to continue at college. These leaders can also reach out to clergy where their students are headed, to make sure they know they’re coming and would be interested in learning more about that campus ministry.

There is a lot we can do in the next few months to keep the future bright for our graduates, to keep them focused, and to prevent them from becoming church dropouts.

The Class of 2007 need not become another discouraging statistic. We just need to set them on the path to successful young adulthood _ in their faith and in life.

(Allen Weed is the founder and president of Interlinc, a youth ministry resource provider in Nashville, Tenn., which every year produces the “ConGRADulations!” music and video project for high school graduates, available at http://www.grad2007.com.)

KRE/LF END WEED550 words

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