"Nones" are the fastest growing religious group. It's a group of people who unify to say they don't believe anything. They associate with no faith system. Many in the group sat in pews of churches before picking up the banner reading "no religious affiliation". So, what keeps students from ditching their faith? We believe a lack of intentional training and mentorship could be a reason, a lack of community that builds a cohesive Christian perspective. We think the uniqueness of a Christian boarding school can help students build a life-long faith for many reasons, but here are 3 that we think are unique in the Hillcrest experience.
Doors to Conversation are Open After the Final Bell. At Hillcrest, students are constantly around people seeking to grow them in their faith. Where some students might attend youth group for an hour of Christian training each week, or a Christian day-school for 35 hours per week, students at Hillcrest receive Christian training 24-7. From the classroom, to after-school activities, to dorm devotions, to church services, to small groups, to chapel times, students have a consistent program that connects them with committed Christian mentors in Hillcrest faculty and staff.
This consistency in living, seeing teachers and staff in hallways, dormitories, and the practice field after the final bell of the school day, builds familiarity that is unique to the Hillcrest experience. Hillcrest conducts the first of many assessments on student connectedness after the first four weeks of school. Students are surveyed to discover how each individual is feeling, also being asked to list three faculty or staff they feel they could ask nearly any question to. If a student doesn't feel connected, Hillcrest has a team of staff who reach out to the student, discovering alternative avenues to connect with students. Last year, this practice was a catalyst for Hillcrest to create 5 new clubs that opened additional doors for students to connect with mentors around activities like baking, reading, chess, drama, and evangelism.
The backbone for Hillcrest's attentiveness to linger after the final bell is intentional action taken to train staff and faculty to engage in conversation that goes beyond the classroom textbook. Students are prepared for college in Hillcrest's classrooms, but what separates Hillcrest from other schools is the focused attention on student discipleship. Some of these tactics are to engage students beyond simple questions. There are a series of key questions staff are armed with each year, moving conversations to mentor relationships that are key in answering big questions. This attentiveness creates community, serving as a shield to buffer attacks on faith.
Dormitories Drive Deep Conversations Instead of Overly-simplistic Answers or Suggestions. Living 24-7 at school is great for the first few weeks, but students quickly learn that they can't hide insecurities and faults for a full 10 months. Students move beyond the polished Christian exterior to reveal the real issues they're struggling with. Many times we marvel at the depth of some challenges students wrestle with that might not be discovered in a traditional school setting. Pushing students to grow, we are able to see and address core misunderstandings or challenges students have labored in with their faith formation before they move out of the home and go to college, where mentorship and Christian discipleship are harder to find.
Some students wrestle with the justice of God, God's design for people with gender dysphoria, how an all-loving and all-powerful God lets evil exist, is the Bible actually true, and many other tangible questions. Christian day schools work to address these questions, but may have a hard time because some answers aren't packed into a 50 minute class period. When students live with and around their Christian disciplers they understand a depth to answers that move beyond intellect, dipping into wisdom where answers hold depth of experience, love, and genuine time invested in the life of the students.
Build a road to resolution. The Millennial generation (those born between 1982-2004) have a high need to know. At Hillcrest we have a staff who are willing to talk about anything. Sometimes the conversations are hard to hear. Topics about church, faith, and the Hillcrest community sometimes reveal obstacles in students' faith that may seem impassable. At Hillcrest, we feel it is important for students to be heard, but also to see a road to resolving their frustration. Addressing their roadblock can help students understand how to continue their path of spiritual growth, and can embolden them to live a convicted faith. Here are a few questions we often use to help with this:
- What are some of your biggest questions about this part of your faith? What are some ways you could potentially find answers?
- What do you think are some of the reasons for your skepticism? Which are legitimate? Which are unfair?
- Where do you see yourself fitting in the body of Christ? What is your role? What might the body lack if you aren't participating? What areas do you want to serve in?
- Have you been personally hurt or let down by the church? How?
- Let's list 25 things the church/faith in Jesus does well. What are 25 things our church does well? Which things are you participating in?
In practicing these 3 simple tips we find the start of a framework for a solid mentor-relationship with your teen. Showing them we're interested and willing to walk down the path of life with them is important. Using questions to build the conversation shows that we're willing to talk about real issues. This gives students confidence our relationship with them, and also their relationship with Jesus as we work to refocus the heart of the conversation around the Lord. We find that students follow the lead of people they think genuinely care about them, but this responsibility isn't ours alone. They need parents to shift from caretaker, tending to every need and bruise, to coach, encouraging them as they embark on new challenges and face successes and failures.
For more tips on building conversation with your student and family, read Cultivate by Jeff Myers. This is one of the foundational books that helps drive Hillcrest's mentor and discipleship community.