By Tim Gardner
We’re in the midst of move-up season, and there seems to be a celebration for everything from preschool closing programs to senior proms. For many, this season is both exciting and difficult as people enter new grades and new phases.
For high school seniors, this marks one of the most critical transitions for them and their faith, since studies show that nearly half of graduating seniors struggle with their faith (Fuller Youth Institute’s Sticky Faith project has great insights on this trend). As the church, we are in a unique position to both celebrate our graduating seniors and launch them well into this next phase of life.
There are many churches approaching this transition in unique and innovative ways. Here are three things that I have found to be meaningful for high school seniors and their families:
In their final semester of high school, invite seniors and their small group leaders to Senior Trip, an overnight retreat away from home. Whether you go to a mountain lake or the big city, this retreat is a meaningful way to deepen connections between the students and the adults who have walked alongside them throughout high school (our small group leaders stay with their students all four years).
While away, celebrate well. Go to a fancy restaurant, book a nice hotel, and have fun together. At the same time, build in purposeful conversations about the upcoming transition.
During our weekend in Historic Philadelphia, we had conversations about what it looks like to engage in deeper freedom after high school, how to navigate making wise choices, and why and how to engage in a local church after graduation. To close out the retreat, attend a church service or simply visit a local church in the area of the retreat. Ask their pastor ahead of time if you can sit down with him or her to discuss their church and their thoughts on launching well.
Fuller Youth Institute has a great resource for some of the crucial conversations to have before graduation.
SENIORS OWN THE NIGHT
Toward the end of their high school career, release 100% control of your weekly program to your seniors for Seniors Own the Night. Let them plan everything from games and food to worship and teaching. Yes, you’ll have the final say (“You know, it might be a better idea to play a game that doesn’t involve a fire extinguisher…”), but seniors are released to work as a team to plan, execute, and evaluate the entire program.
This provides the seniors an opportunity to give back to the ministry that has given so much to them. It’s a great way to give them some ownership in the ministry (something I believe we should be doing all four years with our students). And it also brings back those students with marginal attendance in the spring due to sports, studying, and the like. Students don’t want to miss what their peers have to say!
For more ideas about how students’ can own the night, check out Download Youth Ministry’s You Own The Weekend.
SENIOR CELEBRATION NIGHT
One of the most important things you can do for your seniors is to point them back to their families. In four years, when Sally is graduating from college, you are (most likely) not going to be there. Her high school small group leaders might be there. But her family will be there.
In a Senior Celebration Night, invite students, families, friends, and small group leaders to celebrate their graduation together. Decorate with pictures you’ve gathered from past ministry trips and retreats, enjoy good food or dessert, and create a meaningful environment for everyone to enjoy.
At this strategic launch into their next phase, point students back to their parents, family, and community who have been walking alongside them for 18 years and will be cheering them on for years to come.
Orange and Fuller Youth Institute have partnered together to create a meaningful event package for ministries to use. Or feel free to email me about what we do at Faith.
One of the ways we can help develop a lasting faith in our students is to be intentional about how we celebrate milestones and how we launch them into the next phase of their life. These are three simple ways to make this critical transition more meaningful.
Tim Gardner joined Faith Church staff in 2014. He loves working with a team of leaders who enjoy deepening relationships with students and helping them find hope in Jesus. His interests include playing with his two kiddos, running through the Lehigh Parkway, and exploring bookstores with his wife.