Spring brings many changes and opportunities.
Here in the Chicago area, spring typically arrives in early June and lasts a good three or four hours before we move right into the next big season, which is Construction Season (that, and a disappointing baseball season for my beloved Cubs).
Wherever you live, spring also means that in just a couple months, you’ll be sending another class of seniors off to college. Helping those students end their time under your pastoral care well will pay off in the end.
Let me suggest the two ways that you can help them: looking back and looking ahead.
During my first year in youth ministry, a parent encouraged me to start doing something she had experienced at her previous church: a senior banquet. The purpose of the night is to provide a context to honor your graduates and provide their parents with the opportunity to share their love and blessing for their child publicly. It’s relatively easy to get this going and can be a powerful event.
First, find a committee of junior parents who can pull off the logistics of the event. (The following year as senior parents, they’ll just get to enjoy the evening.) You’ll need at least three teams to handle decorations, food, and clean up.
Then, send a letter to the parents of the graduating seniors, inviting them to the event and asking them to write a letter to their graduating son or daughter, which could include cherished memories, what makes their graduate special, and their hope for their sons and daughters as they head to college. I also include a paragraph making it clear that this is an event for all graduating students and their parents regardless of whether the students have been active in the youth group.
Make sure you have tissues on every table, because nothing gets the waterworks going like parents gushing about their children. Also, make sure you invite your volunteer leaders, and personally honor those who led that group of seniors. End the evening with a slideshow, including some baby and childhood pictures of each student, plus a senior picture. If you have time to gather pictures of the students from ministry events through the years, even better.
I can’t tell you how rewarding this event is for everyone involved: parents, children, volunteers, and you.
While the senior banquet is a powerful evening, it won’t be enough to prepare your students for the challenges (and opportunities) that await them in college. This will take a plan that at the very least includes talking to your graduating seniors about what to expect.
There are a number of resources available for this purpose, but please do something. Back in the Dark Ages when I went to college, the only thing my youth leader did was to tell me to find a church. Because my faith was coming alive, that was enough. I found a great church, got plugged in, and the four years were an incredibly fruitful time for me.
For the sake of the less motivated, it would behoove you to set up something for the purpose of talking through what to expect, whether it’s an evening in your house or an overnight retreat.
That’s not the end of the process, but merely the beginning. Following up is a must. Students will falter, and some will fall away entirely. Encourage those students’ small group leaders to take point on helping shepherd this key transition.