[tweetthis]How you help your seniors leave is as important as how you integrated them in.[/tweetthis]
Each year a new set of students graduate from high school and from high school ministry. It’s like watching your children leave home over and over again. You’ve gone on trips and retreats, had late night conversations, shed tears, laughed, and played and now for some reason they feel it’s time to go! How you help them leave is as important as how you integrated them in as 9th graders. Prep and challenge them, celebrate them and then…stalk them.
Prep and Challenge Them
As our ministry year enters spring, the leaders of our seniors ramp up as they begin to walk with their students in preparation for life after high school. Through panel discussions, roommate questions, and budget and college ministry info their small group discussions seek to help students know what is to come. Although they don’t understand fully, they can at least get begin to get their feet wet. Throughout their senior year, leadership and ownership come to the forefront but now it begins to become real as they see the end is near. It’s time for the hard questions while instilling the courage to be who God created them to be wherever they are.
Next, we hold a Senior/Parent Celebration night in March before the graduation craziness is in full swing. It’s before Spring Break, before finals, and before spring sports. It is a night to celebrate God’s work in the lives of the students and to honor the parents who raised them. There is laughter, stories, and tears as we share simple desserts and coffee and end our evening in prayer over the future God has planned for each one. We also introduce the students and parents to the leaders of the CSP, the College Stalker Program (more on this in a bit). As a church we celebrate our grads on Senior Sunday in June, after the graduation craziness. The grads are given the entire service from planning and writing to worship and message. It’s become a day that many look forward to as we give 18 year olds a voice into the lives of their church family.
As youth leaders, there are so many ways we can walk with students as they step into adulthood and life after high school. Sticky Faith and other great books have helped us realize the importance of this transition and there are so many ways to go about it. We stalk them.
We realized that we can give them tools but we also needed to be prepared to walk with them through the transition and into that first year and beyond. A few years ago, a couple in our student ministry felt led to step out and create the College Stalker Program. Their purpose is purely to stalk college students as they navigate college life. At the Senior/Parent Celebration Night, after the dessert and tears, we introduce families to our young adult ministry and the CSP. They begin to meet parents, connect to students, and say unapologetically that they will be “stalking” them along with a couple leaders that follow them into this 5th year. Parents are thrilled.
Young Adult Ministry is great for those that stay around home, but many go off to school and enter a world where their safe environment doesn’t exist. The Stalker Program has three basic elements: Encouragement, Connection, and Visitation. First, the CSP encourages students to connect to ministries at their schools while at the same time letting them know that they are not forgotten. We have done a bit of research so we are aware of the different ministries students can connect to at the colleges we see most and seek to help them find a new community for growth. The CSP also sends many, many notes to encourage students as they have birthdays, finals, and even the eventual break-up.
Next, the CSP connects through prayer and capitalizes on times when students are home on break. This includes a time to touch base with those they know and new faces as well.
Finally, the biggest element of the CSP, visitation. The team spends a few fall and spring weekends going from college to college (within a 4 hour radius) and checking in and loving on college students. They take them out for good food, learn about life, listen, and pray. We want our students to know that they are still known, loved, and prayed for. The visitation element of the CSP does take a chunk of the budget, but a young adult that doesn’t walk away from their faith is priceless and this is just one way to help them.
There are so many churches doing great things for their graduating seniors. There are retreats for seniors only, special mission trips, and conferences. As you think of your seniors, what can you do to help them successfully navigate their lives after high school? Do you think of high school ministry as having a 5th year? Prep, challenge, celebrate, and stalk are all ways you can begin to help your grads navigate life after high school.