Five Conversations You Must Have With Grads Before College

Don't miss this opportunity before they leave.

Photo by: David Barnas

Graduation has come and gone, but your recent high school grads are likely still around for a little longer. What should your final conversations with them be about?

Recently FYI friend Josh Barton shared some ideas about what his church is doing throughout the year to prepare seniors for what’s next, in hopes of launching them well. Josh is the student ministry pastor at Trinity Church in Greenwich, Connecticut, a suburb of New York City. As you read about their work with high school seniors, consider not only your plan for next year, but what conversations you may need to have this summer with the grads still within your influence.

“I’m not going to lie. I’m super excited about going to college so I can party and drink.”

This is one of those comments that you don’t want to hear as a youth pastor, but you know some students are thinking. I just didn’t expect the upfront honesty coming from one of my own students.

I believe that college can be one of the most fruitful and spiritually-enriching times in the lives of students. I’ve seen faith thrive in some of our students while they are in college. I’ve also seen faith put on the shelf by others. I’m keenly aware that this newfound independence, especially in the first semester, can take students down a road that leads to dark places. So how do we, as youth workers, come alongside our students and equip them to navigate life after high school?

In our church, we started “Senior Project,” a five-session program in the second semester of senior year that mixes practical life skills and tools to nurture faith in college. When students graduate out of our ministry, part of our vision for each senior is that he or she would have a thriving faith and have practical tools to keep growing closer to God.

Here is an example of the topics we tackle during Senior Project:

Life in a Dorm. We talk about practical things like how to organize your dorm room, what things you will need to know about living in a dorm, how to do laundry (we actually do a load of laundry with the group), navigating public transit, campus safety tips, and how to best utilize the Student Union.

Faith and College. How do students move beyond simply keeping their faith in college, toward growing and thriving? That first philosophy class is coming, along with the teacher that hates anything that smells of religion. We talk through hard questions or topics that will get thrown at them, such as whether science and Christianity can co-exist (we believe they do, and we talk about how they might respond in that conversation).

Budget, Time Management, and Spiritual Disciplines. We found this session to be one at which our students were taking voracious practical notes. We walk through, step-by-step, how to budget money (you’re welcome, parents). We talk about tithing, saving money, and how to manage expenses. We talk through how to manage time (especially since Mom won’t be around to wake us up or tell us when to be where). We end this night with the “why, what, and how” of spiritual disciplines so students have tools to feed themselves.

Community. This conversation is best held after your students already know where they are going to school the next year. We sit down with our students and begin to search for churches in their new towns, and we look at the on-campus organizations. We don’t find these new communities for them; instead, we teach them what to look for and how to find communities on their own. If the first two weeks are the most important weeks in all of their college lives, we want to set them up to win. Last year, one student was already talking to a campus ministry’s small group leaders before she even arrived in town. This is possibly the most impactful week in Senior Project.

Q&A about their concerns. You know your students best, so I would recommend you add in conversations around specific needs that your seniors would benefit from discussing. We do an open Q&A with students and allow them to ask anything. We talk through worries, fears, and college life.

Yes, your seniors and grads need more than just conversations. They need the support of the whole church as you walk with them into the next chapter of life. But hopefully these talking points can spark some helpful conversations in the coming months before they become members of a new faith community.

What other topics do you make sure to discuss with grads?

About Josh: Josh Barton is the Student Ministry Pastor at Trinity Church in Greenwich, CT. He has been in ministry for 10 years in a variety of roles. He has been married for 11 years and loves being a dad to his crazy four-year-old and six-year-old boys.

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