3 Ways to Keep Seniors Engaged in Youth Group

3 Ways to  Keep Seniors Engaged in Youth Group

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?

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A Student Ministry Bridge to Nowhere

A Student Ministry Bridge to Nowhere

Is it possible to live at home with mom & dad forever?  Ten years ago, the answer would be, “Who would want to?  Give me my license, and give me my freedom.”  Today, though?  I would say, “Yes, it is possible.”  More and more kids are living at home longer, delaying getting their driver’s license, possibly even delaying going to college.  The verdict is in, and adulthood is not all it’s cracked up to be, and teenagers know it!  Community college is more popular than ever, and the age you can stay on your parent’s insurance is at an all-time high.

Some students never want to leave the youth group, and others flat-out leave the church when graduating from youth group.  So, how do we minister to teenagers who are not ready to move out and move on?  How do we prepare them, spiritually, for adulthood when adulthood is moving further and further away?  Even if they’re not ready to leave home, how can we make sure they are ready to move on from youth group?

Too often Student Ministry has become a bridge to nowhere instead of a bridge to a more mature faith in Christ.  We must prepare them for faith after high school, and we have to make sure that when they graduate high school, they are not graduating the church.  And we do this by…

1.  Integrating teenagers into the church body today.

Now, of course teenagers in your youth group are a part of your church.  BUT, do they feel a part of your church?  That is the key question.  We can tell them all day every day that they are a part of the church, but if their reality is otherwise, none of that matters.  It’s kind of like the shark attack scene in “Couple’s Retreat,” where Vince Vaughn claims he was attacked by a shark, and everyone doubts him.  It’s my favorite line of the movie…”I know my own truth!”  Obviously, this statement is paradoxical on many levels, but nonetheless, teenagers know their own truth.

How can a student in your youth ministry feel a part of the church when they are always separated from the church?  While I completely agree that teenagers need their community, sometimes we sacrifice the Church body for the sake of community.  We must realize the difference between community and group isolation.

Our student ministry team has found that the best way for teenagers to feel a part of the church is to completely integrate them into our weekend services.  No longer do we have students in one building and the rest of our church in another.  No longer do new families walk in and not see any teenagers around.  No longer do students walk into a church worship service for the first time after graduation.  Our teenagers are fully engaged into the life of our church, and it is great seeing middle school & high school students sitting in the front of the worship center each week leading the way in worship!

I definitely believe that teens need their community, and we give that to them on Sunday & Wednesday nights, but not at the expense of the overall Church body.

2.  Empowering teenagers to be the NOW generation instead of the next generation.

Teenagers are capable.  That’s not the problem.  The question becomes are they willing?  Many adults in the church don’t believe that teenagers are willing OR capable.  But that’s bologna (or baloney).  The problem is they have not been given the opportunity to be willing or capable!  Teenagers, especially high school students, can do nearly anything an adult can do, but the church often questions that, and therefore never opening the door for them to serve or to contribute, hiding behind the mantra of teens being the NEXT generation.

If we always say they’re next, then they’re never now.  

What integrating teens into the weekend church worship experience does, is it immediately opens the door for them to have more serving responsibilities.

Since integrating our teens on the weekends, we see students every single week, greeting people, running lights, camera and video, passing communion and offering, leading and teaching in Children’s ministry, leading as part of our worship teams, and even being prayer partners.  We never have a student takeover weekend, because it would look exactly the same as all the other weekends!  Plus this frees up the youth pastor to interact with parents, new families, and the rest of the congregation every weekend.  Student Ministry in your church becomes MORE visible, not less visible.

And now when students graduate high school, they still have a sense of belonging in THEIR church.  They are still serving and they are still coming to weekend worship!

When given the opportunity and the vision, teenagers are willing & capable!  Student Pastors must believe that, but more importantly, Church Leaders, Senior Pastors, and Executive Pastors must believe that. When the entire church buys in, the teenagers are the ones who win.

Are we worried about what our student ministry looks like today, or what the Church will look like tomorrow?

I would love to know…How are you making teens feel like they have ownership in your church?  What are some ways we can better pass the baton of ministry to them before they leave us?