Student Ministry can be emotionally draining. One of the reasons it’s so draining is because every summer you have to say goodbye to students you’ve had for several years. Students you’ve come to know and like really well, students you’ve poured into for years, students who have been leaders in the ministry, and even babysitters to your own children. I truly dislike the month of July for this reason: watching people you like and deeply care for leave your ministry all while wondering how much of them you’ll see again. I believe, as youth pastors, we need to make sure we are doing a good job transitioning seniors out of our ministry, and into the next phase of life. My goals for seniors, are to see them stand on their own faith, while contributing faithfully to the Church themselves. (You can read more about that here.) I think it’s crucial to be very intentional their final year in student ministry.
1. Make it Count
It is so easy for seniors to check out their final year. Many of them check out of school, so naturally, they can tend to check out of youth group as well. And often, we as youth pastors let them. We may even have the attitude of letting them go, because we don’t expect them to stay as engaged as the rest of the students. We may think to just turn our attention and focus to the younger ones who are more engaged. This is especially true for student ministries that have middle school & high school combined. So, let’s re-engage them into the ministry as well as into the overall church body. Give them leadership responsibilities within the ministry. Give them areas to serve in the church. The more they are involved in the leadership of ministry and the church, the more ownership they will have, even when they graduate.
Don’t check out on them, or they will for sure check out on you!
When the goal in high school ministry is to have students graduate standing on their own faith, we do a tremendous disservice to them when we check out on them. Pour even more energy into seniors! Meet with some regularly. They have more freedom than any other students, so you have the freedom to do more with them. Make their senior year count!
2. Make it Memorable
I want our seniors to make the most memories their senior year.
I want them leaving our student ministry with awesome memories and not just itching to move on.
So, I believe in doing some things their final year to make those lasting memories. One of the things that we do is a Seniors Only Mission Trip in March of their final semester. All the other high school students also have the opportunity to go on mission trips, but the only one that we do out of the country is for seniors only. The reason this is so memorable, is that prep for this trip starts in October. So for essentially the entire school year, we are prepping and meeting for our trip in March. There’s a lot of bonding that takes place, and it’s multiplied exponentially when we spend 8 days together out of the country. The mission trip itself is a good mixture of work, but also group time. It’s a great opportunity to spend time each night talking about the future, looking back at the past, and making tons of memories. It’s amazing to see how engaged these seniors are, especially their final 3-4 months upon returning.
3. Make it Special
I think it’s okay to treat seniors special during this time of year. After all, as much as you have invested into them, they have also invested into the ministry. It’s a big deal that they are graduating and moving on, and for the first time in their life, they will be leaving specified programming and ministry designed and tailored just for them. How can you make this time of year special for them? I think it’s important to do some specific senior-only events, all while making sure they know that their time in the youth group is not over until it’s over. Maybe your church has a college-aged ministry. One way to make them feel special would be to get them plugged into and engaged in your college ministry while still in high school, whether it be a fun event or simply a preview night. I believe one way to make them feel special, is by not graduating them from the student ministry until the very last minute.
They’re only in high school once, don’t rush them out!
Make it a point to give them a smooth transition out, and not abrupt. Even if everyone moves up a grade in June, give them a special summer title of Graduated Seniors, and hold on to them for two more months. Take them to your summer camp, keep them involved in summer programming and events. At the end of July, we have a special senior night for them and their families. It’s our final milestone event where we honor them, feed them, and for one final time, appreciate them. It’s a great send-off. (If you would like details on how we do this night, including some of the elements that make them feel special, let me know).
What are some things you have done to keep seniors engaged?
NICK BALLARD is the High School Pastor at Harvester Christian Church in St. Charles, MO, which is outside of St. Louis. Nick has been in full-time student ministry since 2005. He’s been married since 2004, and a father since 2011. Nick loves student ministry, the local church, and believes that God has big plans for this generation of teenagers!