By Josh Hussung
Senior year. The last two semesters of high school can be one of the most gut-wrenching, anxiety-inducing times in the lives of our students. But it can also be stressful for those in student ministry.
During this time, students will not only have to balance academics with work and extracurricular activities, but they will also have to make some of the biggest decisions of their lives so far.
For student ministry leaders, the realization begins to set in that these last few months are often the end of significant influence that a local congregation may have on the life of a student.
The following are some ways that churches can leverage that senior year for the maximum benefit to their students.
1. Already have been a Gospel-saturated ministry.
I realize that’s a strangely worded first point. However, we can’t expect students who have been fed a steady diet of pizza and “Ted Talk” sermons to have a deep and vibrant faith.
We need to have already spent our time and energy teaching students the gospel, and let that good news inform everything we do.
We should teach students to read the Bible for themselves, we should expose them to missions, teach them how to share their faith with others, and teach them what it means to live a life to the glory of God.
The most strategic senior year ever is no substitute for years of students soaking in the gospel.
2. Start before school starts.
If you wait until a couple weeks before graduation to talk about college transition (trust me, I’ve tried) odds are they’ve already become unengaged.
And if they aren’t disengaged, they are so busy during the month of May that many won’t be around. So, start early.
At the end of the summer have a lunch or a meeting with your seniors. Acknowledge that they’re about to head into a tough year with a lot of unique situations and choices and let them know that you are there for them.
Give them a vision for what God has for them this year and that you are excited to walk through that time with them.
Engaging seniors early in the year will help them see that you are taking the next phase in their life seriously.
3. Speak to where they are.
Let the content of your time with seniors be specific to what they are going through.
Think about the things they will encounter senior year: stress from trying to keep grades up, stress from trying to figure out where they will be in the next year, stress from the desire to be an independent adult while still living under the authority of their parents.
All of these and more are going to mark the next year of their lives, so let God’s Word speak into that.
4. Prepare them for where they are going.
Especially during the spring and summer leading up to college, start setting your sites on what their college experience will look like.
How are they going to maintain their walk with Jesus while in college? Where will they go to church? What kinds of campus ministries are available where they are going to school?
What about when their faith is challenged by a professor or another student? What will they do if they are made to feel stupid because of their faith, or their inability to answer an apologetics question?
Will they find their spouse in college? What is dating supposed to look like? What about frat life, should that be something they are involved in?
Addressing these issues and others will help get students ready for the transition to college life.
5. Celebrate the milestone.
This is one of the most important moments in their life thus far. So, go to their graduation if you’re able. But more importantly, acknowledge this milestone as a church.
Pray for them, recognize them as a church, give them a gift, do something that will let them know they are loved and being celebrated.
At our church, we make a card every year with pictures and names of all the students graduating. We give those out to all our church members so they can pray for them.
You could also have a dinner with the students and their parents to celebrate this new phase.
Do whatever it takes to help students see that their church is rejoicing with them as they move into adulthood.
6. Keep walking with them.
Just because they will have “aged out” of the youth group doesn’t mean they age out of your care.
Find ways to keep up with them during the school year. Assign their former small group leader with calling them at strategic times throughout the year, or maybe visiting their campus with them.
Text them during their first week of school and check in on them. Send their contact info to a trusted campus ministry at their school.
Help them research churches near their school and help them make a plan for going to each one to visit.
Call them on Sunday afternoon their first Sunday away and ask them how church was. Make plans to have coffee with them when they are home for fall break.
Discipleship isn’t an age-graded process, but a life-long one. We should walk into college with our students.
Of course, just like every student is different, every student ministry looks different. The way that these principles play out will vary from church to church.
But we should all be committed to helping point students to Jesus as they walk through their senior year and into the next phase of their life.
JOSH HUSSUNG (@joshhussung) is the Pastor of Youth and Families at Grace Community Church in Nashville. He has also written for Rooted Ministry and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.