As a youth ministry professor, I’m always encouraging my youth ministry majors to pursue opportunities to intern or volunteer to gain youth ministry experience. It’s interesting to me how my view of college students in ministry has changed since living in a college town. When I served in two rural towns with a lack of college presence, there was hesitation among church leadership to use college students in youth ministry. The concern was that the college-aged students would treat youth ministry as “13th grade.” In other words, they would attempt to continue to enjoy the benefits of youth ministry, rather than grow up and take responsibility.
The decision to use college students is largely based on need and location. There are both positives and negatives of using them. I’ll give you two of each, but I will leave the decision to you, based on your situation and context.
Younger adults have more energy and enthusiasm than most more experienced adults. Students can feed off college students’ excitement for life, thus providing an environment of anticipation for what will happen next. It‘s one of the reasons we often hire college students to be our D-Now leaders. They can keep up with our students when they are wired on sugar overload from gorging on the loads of snacks at the host home.
It’s been 25 years since I was a young teenager. However, young college kids were young teenagers less than 5 years ago. Their memories of what it was like to be a teenager are more vivid and relevant. When you are middle school student, there is a sense of coolness being able to sit and talk about life with a college student.
College students are a high turnover volunteer team. As soon as you connect with them, they are gone. They have either graduated or grow up enough to realize they need money to pay the bills and have to find a job. It is difficult for students to develop trust and depth of relationships in a short period of time. If you are going to use college students in your youth ministry, you need adults to come alongside them who will be there for the long haul. These adults can minister to the students as well as to the college student.
Limiting Senior High students
This is probably my greatest concern. The ministry goal should be to develop young men and women for life after graduation. We typically do that through discipleship and ministry service. However, when we incorporate college students into our leadership structure, we give the tasks we would often give high school students to college students.
For example, when I served in rural towns, my senior high students were my small group leaders, serving alongside my adults. In the college town where I live now, most churches, including my own, use college students to serve in these roles.
If we are going to use college students, we need to be mindful of the service limitations this places on high school students.
If you have not set some policies for what to do with college students, do so quickly. I think it is good for first year college students (right out of high school) to take a year and experience life outside the youth ministry. This includes those who move to a college town. I encourage my youth ministry majors to visit multiple churches and find a place where they can be fed first before plugging into a student ministry. For most, they have not experienced the adult version of church culture, and it is an important element to their growth into adulthood.
In addition, there is also the social dynamics of college. College students need to adjust to a different relationship circle. That means they need to find college friends and not youth ministry friends to spend time with. It also means absolutely no dating anyone in the youth ministry. There are legal implications. Even if mom and dad think it’s cute for their senior girl to be dating a college sophomore, by legal standards, the college student is an adult in a supervisory capacity interacting with a minor under his care. It’s very bad news for everybody. If dating is on the minds of college students, they need to quit working in and showing up to youth ministry.
You might even go as far as saying no dating any other college volunteers in the youth ministry. This one has youth ministry cultural implications. What happens if two of your college leaders break up, and it’s ugly? It is going to impact the youth group and especially, small groups. The room will be filled with awkwardness at the tension.
Again these are thoughts for discussion. Your church and youth ministry will need to decide how to handle this age group. Remember the question is what is best for the youth ministry? It will be different based on location.
This post originally appeared on Youth Ministry for Free.