Graduating Seniors: 5 Steps to a Better Transition
I realize it's early in the year to be talking about graduation but better transitions out of youth and college ministries is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I've decided on some things I would do if I were still a youth minister:
- Find out where my seniors are going after high school and connect them to their new people. I recently had someone email me with the contact information for one of their graduating youth. This person knew I worked for a church that seeks to reach young adults and thought we'd be a good fit for their graduating senior. I've since talked with this senior and planned a time to visit with her when she gets to Austin. This is how our connectional system should work! She is moving from one ministry to another (hopefully). We are not just dropping her off and hoping she'll find the Wesley Foundation or a United Methodist Church in town. We are being intentional and weaving her into the broader church. Way to go pastors who do this! I wish I had.
- Be honest about the church. Our seniors are often going to a context that does not invite them into the work of the church. They had entire ministries and staffs devoted to them from birth to graduation--worship, service, and play opportunities geared to their contexts. Once they graduate, this all disappears. Churches often have nothing for this age group or make a very minimal effort. When you visit a church as a young person, you may be the only one your age there. People may not even see you as a "real" potential member. Let's talk about this with our seniors and not try to hide it by hoping they enter a Wesley Foundation instead of a local church. Someday they will leave college too and they are "young" until they are 35 or 40...
- Visit churches with them during their senior year. What is it like to be "the Visitor"? You need to know. Seniors should take some field trips (if they will) and learn about other churches in and out of their denomination. It would also be good to have some follow-up discussions. Maybe you didn't like everything but could you find a place there? Why or why not?
- Commission them to a mission field instead of graduating them out with kind words and a gift. Now that they know the context they are walking into, let's commission them as missionaries from our church into their new mission field. Paul did this, why can't we?? We can develop a ritual that no longer graduates them out, but pushes them onward as disciples.
- Connect them with an adult (NOT their parent) in the church who will check in with them throughout their first year and beyond. Paul wrote letters. We need to check in with our missionaries too. Have adults in the congregation commit to a once a month check-in via Facebook, phone, text, visits, care packages, etc. These adults can meet with one another to support their efforts and pray for their young adult.
These small steps could go a long way toward keeping our graduating seniors loved, supported, and connected. Even just one of these steps could be helpful. They would work for any type of graduating senior--those going to college, starting into the workforce, staying in town, moving far away, etc. A few tweaks could also help them work for seniors in college. It's really all about staying connected and connecting them to people in far-off lands. The UMC is capable of doing this because we can easily find a United Methodist prescence almost anywhere in the world. How many pastors reading this have called on the connection in the past? We've stayed on gym floors, called the United Methodist Church in the small town when our car is broken down, asked to be connected to a mission project, used each other's vehicles...why not call on one another to nurture our children into adulthood? Will you try it with your seniors this year?