Graduation is a reason to be joyful for many of our students and their families! It also should cause youth workers to think deeply about how to guide students through this sometimes difficult transition. Here are four principles to consider as students graduate out of your ministry this year.
These students have worked for 12 years to get to their high school graduation. This is no small accomplishment. On top of this and other extracurricular activities, many students will have spent countless hours in the age level ministries at your church. Take this time to celebrate these accomplishments with your whole church family. You might want to celebrate them in your weekly services, give them a gift, or even consider throwing a lunch in their honor. Make sure that they know they are loved by your church community, even if they are going to college somewhere far away. Give these students something to remember you and your church family by that will encourage them as they continue their Christian walk.
Your time of dedicated discipleship with these students has come to an end. However, you don’t have to send your students away empty. When Jesus left the disciples he gave them the Great Commission and encouraged them to continue spreading the gospel (Mt. 28:16-20). Encourage your students to continue walking with God and giving them a scripture and mission to remember as they go. Encourage the congregation and families of these students to come around an altar and pray for them by name as they continue to be discipled and disciple others in this new season of life. Sending our students out on mission is the best way to encourage them to be leaders in their faith. Whether they are choosing to go straight into the workforce or headed to a college campus, students will quickly learn that they will need to be leaders who stand up for their faith in the midst of temptation and encourage others to do the same.
Graduating Seniors will be excited about their new lives outside of high school and they won’t yet know what future forks in the road will attempt to derail them from following Christ. They may be starting new jobs, college, or taking some time to rest. Encourage your church to remember that each of these paths will lead to a different set of excitements and struggles for their walk with God. Students might need a little bit of encouragement in this time and help to find resources for their new journey. Share with your students your favorite devotional materials, how to find a local church wherever they are, and a practical gift to remind them of their time in the youth ministry. Not every resource may be used right away, but they will quickly know where to look when they need help along the way.
Above all, continue encouraging your graduating students to be involved in a faith community wherever they go and encourage the church to contact students at different times throughout the year to check on their faith journey. Encourage parents to continue to be spiritual guides for their students and remind families that you are still available to pray for them and with them on this journey. Staying connected with students who have graduated out of your ministry takes intentionality but it will allow you and your church to continue to plant seeds in that young person’s life.
If you do have students that are staying in town, work with your church’s leadership to get them involved in the life of the church or connected with your college-age ministry. This transition can be an easy time for many students to walk away from the church but do your best to connect them to the congregation in the months leading up to their graduation so that they feel loved, engaged, and involved in the church’s community.