Now What? Engaging Students After High School

Written by Scott Osborne on the Youth Specialties Blog:

Well, you’ve made it. 

After hearing Pomp and Circumstance at least ten times, wearing a ridiculous silky bathrobe and hat, hearing your name pronounced wrong, and getting “goodbyes” from people you only marginally knew, you are finally a graduate. Next step: college or career? You are nervous but excited. However, Sunday rolls around and you are sitting at home looking at posts from your underclassmen buddies at youth group sharing about all the fun they are having. You might then ask yourself, now what?

Too often this is the exact experience of those that graduate from our ministries. They are too old for youth group, too young to return and be an adult leader, and too marginalized to feel ready for or accepted in adult Sunday school classes. If this describes the emerging adults (18-28-year-olds) in your church, it is time to do something about it.

Maybe your church is like mine and has tried a handful of times without success and is flat burned out. Or maybe you would be entering brand new territory by starting something. Here is a fact: if you have a student ministry that graduates students each year, you already have the seeds to begin the process! As I have led my emerging adult group, I have had successes and failures, which has created constant flux in our systems, but the necessity has remained. If you have never tried an emerging adult ministry or need the challenge to try it again, let me walk through the process that has worked for us.


Even though our church had tried and failed to get this ministry running in prior years, I was basically starting from scratch. I could create something I thought would work, but why not interview students who would benefit? Right there you have already invested them and maybe locked in their attendance. So, I started by contacting and meeting with those in our church who fit into the age range and asking them three questions: A) What do you need in your life right now that you are not getting anywhere else? B) What kinds of gatherings do you like to attend? C) What would you be willing to invite friends to? From the answers I received, I began to form a gathering that would scratch some of the itches that those in our church had.


While their dorm rooms and cars might be a mess, emerging adults are drawn to excellence and interested in the aesthetically pleasing. So, in addition to word of mouth and social media invites, I began creating a logo to brand the group and spread the word. Once the group was “real” to them, and looked organized and thought out, it began to be populated.


Once you have a heading, make sure it is talked about on the main stages of your church (i.e. on stage, social media, board meetings, etc). For most of the congregation, an emerging adult ministry is the last thing on their mind and you want it to be a known item on the prayer and support list.  While you might not get an immediate budget line thrown your way, at least your church will know an answer to the questions, “Does your church have a young adult ministry?” and “Is there anything for a college student like me?”


The greatest need at the start was simply relationships with other Christians, so we initially met for an hour or so at a local coffee shop on two Saturday mornings a month. But as time and schedules changed, instead of being discouraged, we changed too. Our meeting locations now include my home, the church, two different ice cream shops, a local restaurant, the beach, a trampoline park, an arcade, and a park or two. With those changes have come programmatic changes as well. We now include two “by and for” services a month for our emerging adult group and are working to include some service oriented gatherings into the schedule.

Want a quick, non-extensive pro and con list?


  1. New connections between students
  2. Strengthened faith walks
  3. Students coming back to church after years away
  4. Students taking leadership roles in the group
  5. Students engaging in lead roles in church
  6. The church sees this age group as important and essential
  7. Open door to guide students in the next step
  8. Fights the void that delayed adolescence creates at this stage


  1. Additional event and planning in your schedule (if you lead it)
  2. Forces you to educate yourself differently
  3. Nomad quality of this age group makes consistency hard

Honestly, the pros will always outweigh the cons for this ministry, but when you are moving towards such an endeavor it seems terrifying. 

Like junior high ministry, you question if you are cool enough, smart enough, and whether or not more people will show than that one person that comes to everything already. I can tell you this, they are more intimidated by you than you are of them, and the outcome of breaking down those walls is amazing. Just this last summer I took a team of nine to Bulgaria for our church’s first ever, emerging adult, missions trip. This was fruit from our emerging adult ministry and the way God impacted the lives of our team has sparked a change in our church. Your emerging adults have the power to lead your church. Whether you plan a regular weekly meeting, a monthly outing, or just a yearly holiday-based party, don’t make the mistake of dropping off their grad card and letting them drop off your radar.

Remind them that they are not forgotten or alone.

Remind your church of their passion and energy.

Remind them of their potential and walk alongside them, even after they graduate.

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