There are many adjustments to make when a student moves from living at home to living on their own. Finding and getting involved in a good church home can make these adjustments easier. But how do you encourage your students to look for a church and how do they find one that will teach them solid, Christian doctrine?
Eric Miller, director of ministry operations for CE National, talked with Zac Hess, training pastor at Grace Polaris Church, about how you can help students find a good church when they leave home.

Zac’s ministry at the Westerville, Ohio, church is to teach people the Bible so they can teach themselves and to teach effective ways to share with others. Zac grew up at the Southview Grace Brethren Church in Ashland, Ohio. He has deep roots in this older, established church. As a kid he learned to love the church and was actively involved in the youth group. It was in the youth group that he sensed the call to ministry. Because he always wanted to teach, Zac thought he would become a history teacher and a coach. But in high school he went on CE National’s summer ministry experience called Operation Barnabas, which helped to steer him toward church ministry. While at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana, he was surrounded by great mentors.  Zac’s participation in an internship at Grace Polaris was a monumental summer for him.
In 2012, Zac went back to Grace Polaris church and has been on staff ever since.

What helped you find a church after you left home?

Zac didn’t learn what to look for in a church by attending a class. It was modeled for him by the church where he grew up. Zac grew up in a church that taught the Bible and did ministry well. He needed other adults to speak into his life. A good church was modeled for him.

What does your church do to help students?

Zac says that Dave Nicodemus, student’s pastor for Grace Polaris, models involvement in the local church well.  Whenever possible, Dave includes the youth group in all-church events. There might be a youth group class, but students are expected to go to  corporate gatherings too. Grace Polaris believes that students are part of the church and serve together.  Dave will cancel the youth group so students and families can go to Communion. That helps students learn to be part of the local church, not involved in a separate program.
The church also encourages graduates who are still in the church to become members. They’ll see 18 and 20 year olds going through church membership class. Dave does a great job of emphasizing to his students the importance of a local church.
At seven years old, Zac began to help his dad greet people at the door of the church. He encourages parents to include their kids with their ministry. That could be weeding the flower beds, sound and tech, or greeting. Students learn best when service is modeled.

What should students look for in a new church?

Zac points people to the book What Is a Healthy Church? By Mark Dever.

  1. Pray. This is the first thing you want to do.
  2. Seek counsel. Ask your pastor for help finding a good, local church in the area you’re moving to.
  3. Learn what a potential church teaches.
    1. The Gospel. Is the gospel taught and preached? Do you hear the message for Jesus crucified for sinners? You can’t assume the gospel is preached. Look for preaching that’s faithful to Scripture.
    2. The Bible. Is the Bible preached from the pulpit? Preaching influences all other ministries of the church.
    3. Sound Doctrine. Does the church line up with what was taught in your home church? Does the church have its statement of faith on their website?
  4. Some questions to ask yourself about the church
    1. Would I want to meet a spouse that’s been brought up in this church?
    2. Would I be happy to invite my friends to the church? Would my friends hear the gospel?
    3. Can I serve in the church?
    4. What’s the diversity factor. This could be ethnic, but could also be age diversity?
    5. Is the church close enough you could be an active member?

Zac says there are two opposite dangers. Some students will look for a church like the one they grew up in, but their home church might not be healthy. Other students may want to go find a church that’s the exact opposite of what they grew up in.
“There’s no perfect church,” says Zach. Sometimes students sacrifice the good for the sake of the perfect.  Every church has its shortcomings.

What advice would you give to adults who want to help students?

  1. Start with prayer. Don’t try to force students to get into a good church, but pray for them.
  2. Help, but don’t do all the work. Have a conversation of what to look for, but allow them to get on the websites and attend churches to try them out.
  3. Ask, but don’t ask too much. Natural conversations are best.
  4. Continue to model what local church participation looks like. If you model that church is optional, then your student will probably feel that way when they are on their own.

Why is this such an important topic for a church?

Zac’s passion for the local church comes through in the way he describes his church experience. How many of our pastors and people could define what a local church is? We don’t talk about it because we assume what the church does.  Grace Polaris Church, a local church body of believers, has made a covenant together under a common Lord, doctrine, and faith for a common mission. Local churches are a body. They’re a people more than a building. Zac teaches his own kids that they are going to gather with other believers. They aren’t just going to the church building.
Zac remembers many older people in his church who were huge influences in his life. The doctrine of the church needs to be a higher priority. “We need to see the church as part of God’s plan,” says Zac.

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