Keeping the Grads

A solution to church finance or exhaustion of leaders in a student church is trying to keep the graduates. As Arie has commented on Sui's blog, comparing with university students, a recent grad (with a job) has significantly better financial advantage, generally more mature than younger students, and will not be burdened by family matters for a few years. Great ministry resource, but how do we keep them?

It came to me as a shock when I learnt last week that one member of our congregation for 4 years, who has recently graduated from the university, has decided to depart and attend another church. Ask of the reason, "incompatibility" seems to be the key. FOCUS, as a student church catered for overseas students, is just not suitable for someone who is a fresh-grad, started working, and is seeking fellowship with other like-minded and in similar circumstances.

As a guy who like to rectify all problems, my immediate response is - "What?! So how can we fix FOCUS so that a graduate would not be able to use that excuse to leave us again?". There is an issue - now give me the solution!

It is not just me who hate to see graduates go. In our last meet up with Josh, he was pushing an idea of "Grad+4". Instead of loosing graduates who are staying back in Australia to other churches, he would like to keep the them in FOCUS for 4 more years - as young workers who can provide feed back to the student ministry, both financial and spiritually. They can also be more thoroughly equipped with God's Word and ministry skills, before heading back home or going to other churches.

Sounds like a good idea. Again, how do we keep the grads?

I think it is not going to be easy. FOCUS is a very student centred church - everything we do is around the students. It is not just our church service happens to be in a lecture theatre. Our schedules are periodic - they go up and down depending on whether we are in week 1 or week 14 of an university term. When you meet someone new at church, you ask "what do you study? which year?" You take breaks when students are having holidays. You group people by the courses they are doing. You try to encourage each other during the exam weeks. We all discriminate art students...

There are just way too much of this student-ministry-mentality in FOCUS to cater for the graduates. Half the activities are run during the week days on the campus, and there is sometimes nothing during the exams, even on a beautiful Saturday! And what do you talk about during morning tea? COMP4001 or your office politics (of course the correct answer should be - what have we learnt from the sermon?!) But most unfortunately - sometimes I found graduates can be categorised as second class citizen in a student church. They are not covered by our mission statement - so take care, be self-motivated when you are around, but don't expect attentions from our ministry team because you don't study here...

In order to make FOCUS more attractive to the grads, we can either,

  1. Split the church into graduates and students, like what Pelita has done.
  2. Shift the attention to the graduates, include them as part of mission, and become less student-ministry centred.
  3. Train the graduates to be more student-ministry centred, so they will stay for the sake of proclaiming the gospel.

I don't think there is an ideal solution. Splitting the church doubles your resource requirement, and the burden of running a student church remains. Shifting away from student-centred ministry violates why FOCUS is here in the first place - sending trained students to go back home and serve, as students really are the centre of FOCUS. Training the graduates is hard, and how many of them stayed because they are ministry-minded (instead of just too lazy to move on)?

We shall discuss more in the next episode.