Launching recent graduates out of student ministry can be a mixed bag of emotions. Some students have been rock stars in your ministry, and their absence leaves leadership gaps that will be difficult to fill. Other students have been leeches sucking the energy and fun out of your brilliant programming, and their absence leaves echoes of angels singing and confetti streaming through the air. (Too melodramatic? Not based on some of the students I’ve graduated over the years!)
Being a good youth leader, you still feel called and compelled to invest in these recent graduates right up until the time they head off for college (or wherever they’re heading). What are some things you can do to maximize the time you have with these students as they prepare to graduate out of student ministry?
- Tell them what you see in them. Some students only see their negative traits. Help them see the positive things based on how they’ve interacted with your ministry. If one of your students has been an up-front leader, help them see how they’ve impacted your group. If another student went out of their way to connect with younger students, share a story of what that mean to the students they’ve impacted. For some students, these suggestions will come easily and naturally; for other students, you’ll have to be generous and creative. Don’t turn them into “saints,” but shine light on the best parts of their lives.
- Make space for them to pour into your younger students. Not every graduate will take this opportunity, but try to create moments when the wisdom of the older students can be shared with the younger students. Their wisdom doesn’t need to be profound. We had a graduate who was a recently-baptized, new Christ-follower share a few words with our students who were getting baptized after our summer camp. Her comments weren’t particularly profound, but the moment was less about what the group of students heard and more about what the graduate received by the simple act of us asking her to share.
- Help them connect them with the larger church. You know the statistics – some of our graduates will check out of church once they lose the connection with your student ministry. What if you did the hard work it takes to help your graduates sense a connection with your whole church body? And what if you helped them see the need to stay connected with the larger church in the town where they’re headed?
- Send them swag. Get students’ addresses before they head off to college and send them stuff they’ll need. SoulFeed is the perfect college care package that provides the traditional comfort of food and keepsakes while also nourishing the soul with faith-based devotional content. Before students leave for the semester, we ask them to write a letter to themselves to remind them to stay true to their faith, then we mail them their letter mid-semester.
I can’t remember where, but I read an encouraging statistic that 80% of students that stay connected with the local church during their 4+ years of college will continue to stay connected with the local church throughout their lives. Do the hard work to stay connected with your graduates to the end. It’s good for them, it’s good for you, and it’s good for the church.