The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “Remember your creator in the days of your youth”. The teenage years are significant for their degree of impact; these are often the years when crucial life decisions are made. Australian research indicates that over 70% of Christians make their decision to follow Christ before the age of twenty .
In chaplaincy we have a short window of opportunity to impact students who are a part of our school community, therefore, we must think about how we can strategically connect them to a church. Once a student leaves a school it is often very difficult to connect them to a church because they have moved on. Rather than reacting as they are sitting their HSC (“what church should I send them to”?), we should consider long before what possible strategies we might implement to help students make this connection.
‘we have a short window of opportunity to impact students’
Every church, to some degree, could be more effective in the area of connecting. Connecting in this sense is where people transfer from one group to another. For example, from Sunday school or kids club to youth group, or a junior youth group to a senior one. In our context, the challenge is to move teenagers from a church school to a church and its youth group. Encouraging young people to be part of the church community is one of the most crucial transitions that needs to be made because it is here that they will learn what it means to be part of the body of Christ. As Paul says, “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Eph 4: 12,13.). We can do no greater work than to equip young people for that ministry.
In Chaplaincy, we must seek to bridge the gap between the ministry of the school and youth group and that of the church. This shift is vital because connecting with a church strengthens a Christian’s faith and enables seekers to access a place where they can find out more.
‘Encouraging young people to be part of the church community is one of the most crucial transitions’
These two ministries need to be more effective in bridging the gap rather than working independently of each other. We need to have a bigger picture of how to provide teenagers with the opportunity to connect. We must see our partnership with these local churches as vital. Our ministry must not be done in isolation but as partners in the gospel with local Christian communities.
I once had two year ten girls see me after class and ask me to suggest a youth group for them to attend. I asked them where they lived and I recommended a youth group in their area. The following week when I saw them in class I asked them how it went. They said they were not going back. When I asked why, they explained that they had gone “to understand more about Jesus” but the group “played games for 2 hours and Jesus was not mentioned at all”.
This connection failed because the students and the youth group had quite different goals. For connection to have succeeded, these two groups needed to have overlapping, if not the identical goals. Central to these goals must be Jesus.
Nathan and Ryan were students of mine. When they were in year eight they came to our Christian weekend away. They both became Christians and we connected them into a local church where they have been discipled and are youth group leaders. This worked because the purpose was to proclaim Christ, and the gospel is the power of God (Romans 1:16). They weren’t put into an entertainment based youth ministry.
Discipleship should be the goal of Chaplaincy because it gets alongside students and equips them for Christian living. When Jesus commissioned the disciples, he said: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Mat 28:19,20). The ministry and the mission of the disciples then, and of us now, is to go into the world with this great news of Jesus and share it with people of all ages. Jesus does not just want to see people saved, but to see them mature and develop Christian character. They are to impact the world as his disciples by making disciples and telling the story of Jesus to “all nations”. Therefore, focusing on discipleship among youth will help develop a ministry that is committed to Biblical principles. Thus, it is important to connect them with churches that will foster that growth.
Youth ministry is not and should not be just about Friday nights, but about integrating the youth into the life of the church. When this is part of the wider strategy of the church the transition from school to youth group to church would be far more effective. Churches must be prepared to remain contemporary and have solid Biblical input to engage teenagers.
Some points and ideas for connecting:
- Local church involvement: Recently I got several local youth ministers to come and tell us about their youth group.
- We have a church that meets in our school and their youth minister is employed 2 days a week by the school to help connect teenagers.
- Local youth ministers speaking at chapel throughout the school year.
- Youth ministers coming on school camp.
- Being part of a lunch time Christian group is a great starting point to enable those connections to take place. These students are the ones who often want to grow in their faith so they are the obvious people to start connecting to church, if they are not already in one.
- Having a key contact person that is known to the school and the teenagers.
- Making what you do in chapel reflect what you do in church?
- Invite a school choir to come and perform at a local church.
- Start up parenting seminars at the church, offering Christianity Explored.
- Have special occasions where we can you invite particular year groups to come attend a service where they can be involved in the service and perform items.
- Our year seven classes do an assignment where they visit a local church and complete a work sheet.
- Running after-school primary Christian groups at local churches; remember, ‘the earlier the connection, the stronger the connection’.
- When students are in year six and are about to move up to year seven email them information.
- The start of any new year is a crucial time to give them information.
“The only true measure of success in a youth ministry program is the ability and willingness of a church to fully assimilate growing adolescents into the adult fellowship.” 
Young people need to be encouraged not only to attend church but to actively participate in the life of the church.
 Bellamy, Mou and Castle, Social Influences upon Faith Development. NCLS 2004.
 Mark H. Senter 111. Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church. Zondervan Publishing House Grand Rapids, 2001. Pg 85.