I spent most of my ministry life in Sydney, Australia. Now you need to know that Sydney is a great place to live. There is temperate weather, great beaches, awesome restaurants, great business / work opportunities and a vibrant arts scene. It is also a looooong way away from most other urban centers (the “tyranny of distance” as they say in Australia).

This means that the average student who graduates from High School tends to stay in Sydney for their tertiary education. Sure, some youth leave the big smoke and go elsewhere, but most don’t.

Contrast this with North America. When I was growing up it was just assumed that I would leave home after high school. I mean, why would anyone stay around? The cultural norm was to another place for a time of exploration, discovery and of course, an education. (The irony is that while one student leaves his home town to go elsewhere for a ‘better’ experience, another student is leaving her town to come to the first student’s home town for a similar ‘better’ experience!)

A few years back I worked for a large church in a city that is often voted as “the number one city in the world to live”. And yes, it certainly is a nice place to live. It also has one of the very best universities that this country has to offer. The funny thing was, the high school students were under pressure to go elsewhere for university. In fact, many felt that if they stayed in the number one city in the world and went to one of the very best universities in this city in the world that they were making a second-rate choice.

I spent hours telling these students to stay in their home city to study. I’ll share with you the four reasons why:

1. The track record of students who go away from home for university and stay Christian is very poor. If your relationship with Jesus is important to you, chances are you will be better off remaining where you are.

2. Leaving your support structure (family, church etc.) and this stage of your life may prove to be unhelpful. It is often a case of “too much too soon”. Leave this change for a few years when you start a new job or start post-graduate studies—you’ll be much better off.

3. Stay and help your church in the many ministries that it offers. Give a few years back to the church that helped you. As one parent once said to me, “The youth and children’s ministries are built on the backs of those youth who stay.

4. In my research, where you do your undergraduate studies is not nearly as important as where you do your studies after that. In the end, staying here will be cheaper, better for you spiritually and no worse for you educationally.

As I begin to wind up, let me share two interesting observations on the groups of youth I watched graduate from high school in my time in this “number one city”.

1. When I tried to convince parents of the wisdom of staying I was met with a wall of disbelief. “I want my 18 year old to go off and explore the world just like I did” was often their response. I’m not all that sure that this response rings with spiritual maturity.

2. There was often a sense of relief from many of the students when they were encouraged to stay home to go to university. One student said to me “I do not want to go to the other side of the country for four years. I’m only 17. Why do my parents keep insisting that I should—don’t they care?”

3. Without a doubt, those who stayed for university were better off than those who left. We have heard horror story after horror story from our once godly grads who went away for their studies. Sure, one or two really found their feet and were blessed by their time away, however, they seemed to be the exception that proves the rule.

So, the bottom line is simply this: maybe the Christian community needs to keep reassessing cultural norms and go against the trend for the health of our youth.