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?

4 Keys to Help Students Transition into Your Ministry

keysTransitioning in life is never easy, no matter what the transition.  While it may be exciting, it doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges.  Think of all the transitions you go through in life:  starting school, changing schools, going to college, starting new jobs, getting married, having kids, changing jobs, changing positions in jobs.

Some of the many transitions in life happens in the teenage years.  Not only do new 6th graders change schools, but they change ministries in the church as well.  And sometimes, going from Children’s Ministry to Middle School Ministry might be scarier than actually changing schools!

Here are 4 key things to do when preparing for a healthy & exciting transition.  This can also apply transitioning 8th graders to the High School Ministry if your Middle School & High School ministries are separate.  Or if you don’t transition until 7th grade, just substitute 6th grade for 7th.

1.  Work with Children’s Ministry Team.

  • Too often on church staffs, each ministry is a silo, keeping their head down and doing their own thing.  While it’s true we have been hired to lead a specific ministry, it’s crucial to keep the big picture in mind.  We are part of an entire team.  Just like on a baseball team, you may play shortstop, but you are practicing, meeting with, and encouraging the entire team in order to win.  You may have played a flawless game at shortstop, but if your team loses, what’s the point?  Sometimes, we’re so laser-focused on our ministry, that we lose sight of everything else.  I believe each ministry should be contributing to the overall health of the church.  Student Ministry staff should meet regularly with Children’s Ministry staff in order to ensure a healthy transition plan for incoming 6th graders.  This is a big reason Orange is such a great tool for cohesive curriculum.  Children’s Pastors should portray excitement about 6th graders moving up and talk up and about Student Ministry often.

    It’s about receiving students well, and handing them off well.

    And Student Pastors should…

2.  Make yourself available to Children’s Ministry.

  • Serve in Children’s Ministry!  I’m not saying you need to be in there weekly, but make yourself known to the kids.  When it’s time for them to transition, at least they will know who will be leading them next, and you’re a familiar face.  Offer to teach a lesson everyone once-in-while, go to a pre-teen event, like SuperStart, help out at VBS, or heck, just set up chairs and high-five kids as they come in!  Like I said, you don’t need to be at everything, but

    having a presence in Children’s Ministry breaks down ministry barriers and starts the relationship-building early.

3.  Treat the incoming 6th graders special.

  • It’s a big deal going from 5th grade to 6th grade.  Make it one!  This may mean:  1) moving them up at the beginning of the summer, so they can actually be and feel like a 6th grader before school starts.  2) Pull them out of Children’s Ministry a couple of times in the spring to “orientate” them by bringing them into a student service or class.  3) Throw a party!  Do some kind of welcome party for them, where you can focus your time on them and get to know them while having fun.

    It’s a big deal going from 5th grade to 6th grade.  Make it one!

4.  Meet with the parents.

  • This is a big one!  Establishing relationships with parents needs to start early, or the next thing you know, they’re juniors and you’ve never met mom or dad.  This also emphasizes your desire to partner with them to help spiritually lead their teenagers, because that’s what it’s all about.  Send a letter to parents in the Spring preparing them for the transition.  Invite them to a Student Ministry Orientation or a Student Ministry Open House so they can get to know you, your leaders, and your programming.  Maybe stand at the entrance to your Children’s Ministry on Sunday mornings, and meet them as they drop of their kids.  Have information to give them. There are so many questions when it comes to transitioning to a new ministry, and having answers on paper helps parents put the pieces together.  Whatever you do, you can never do too much to connect with parents.

    If we truly want to partner with parents, we must create many connections with them.

Transitions in life can be scary, let’s do everything we can to make them more exciting in Student Ministry