Wondering what to do with your graduating seniors?
Plenty has been written on that very subject. It’s even all over social media in virtually any forum related to student ministry.
You may not need another article on this.
And yet the question is still nagging you, isn’t it?
What, if anything, will you do to recognize graduates?
That’s the real question, isn’t it? Not what creative ideas are out there (and I’ll share some of my favorites at the bottom) but how will you and your church personalize this?
You may desire something different for your graduates, but there are some consistencies up front to consider.
- You’ll need to say something inspirational: Don’t worry – it doesn’t have to be valedictorian level. In fact, if you’re recognizing graduates in a church service remember to keep the focus on who God is rather than just applauding for the kids. A worship gathering is about the Lord, so either focus on Christ in the students or how they need Jesus in this next phase of life. In fact, don’t be afraid to reach out to old youth ministry or children’s ministry leaders to come back and speak into the students accordingly.
- You’ll want to say goodbye: It’s a bit of a fake-out, because you’ll likely still have some time with them throughout the summer. Still, this may be one of your only opportunities to get them all in one place as they each transition into other things.
- You’ll let someone down: It’s sad knowing a change is happening, and the families will already be dialed into it. Don’t be surprised if a parent or grandparent expresses how you could have done something differently. Hang in there, and give your best anyway.
- You’ll have a blind spot: It’s super easy to overlook someone or forget a detail. Ask parents and students to help you identify everyone who may come so you can plan ahead.
The senior year is a huge transitional year for these emerging adults, not to mention your student ministry. While life for graduates is often about what’s next, this is a great time to remember where you’ve come from. In doing so, you paint a picture to the next round of students about what matters.
In our church gatherings that recognize graduates:
- We gather them together on the same Sunday
- We flash a picture of them on the screen from one of our favorite memories of them (like a camp experience or significant moment) as we talk about that memory.
- We speak an intentional blessing into their lives – something directional and Story-based to remind them who they are in Christ.
- We give them a short and practical book that will help them figure out who they are, like Dan Webster’s “Finding Your Way.” The day of the service, we pass this around in the church and ask people to sign their names to the back inside cover if they will commit to pray for this person over the next year.
- We invite past and present youth workers to speak additional encouragement into the students.
- We invite families up as we have the graduates stand so we can pray over them,
You can certainly give out the old standby – Bibles with their names written on them.
Or… here are some creative ideas:
- Laundry bags with their names sewn on them (because nothing says “Welcome to adulthood” like laundry).
- A catered lunch where the juniors serve the seniors (and the seniors speak into the juniors).
- Graduation Gift Set with Jesus-centered resources for life after high school.
- Subscriptions to Relevant Magazine (or something comparable)
- Copies of Dr Seuss’ “Oh, The Places You Will Go” (with a personalized message inside the front cover).
- Small toys from the era they grew up in (to remind them of their roots).
- Taco Bell or Starbucks gift cards with instructions to take someone out to eat in the fall (like a new college roommate).
- Gift bag with multiple flavors of Ramen Noodles and a trendy bowl (with their name personalized on it).
- Pillow cases (with signatures of all the other students on it).
- Create a map and put pins in the areas they’ll be heading into so you can pray for them as missionaries to those areas (and perhaps even add this to your missionary board or web page).
- Take them away for a weekend to a nearby college town so you can visit different churches and talk through how to find a great congregation to get plugged into. Add some fun to it in terms of where you stay and what you do in your down time (like a great restaurant or arcade).
It’s not a question of if there are great ideas out there. It’s about which one is best for your graduates.
What are your favorite ideas, or perhaps something else you plan on doing this year?