Ask an Expert
By Jeff Baxter
Graduation comes fast for the high school seniors in your youth ministry. It is a new season for them. They need your help before, during and after they receive their diploma. Here are some steps to help those graduating seniors find success as they hold onto their faith in college.
Get Some Coffee
Get together with each senior who is graduating. Text, Call or Snapchat them. At your coffee date, find out where they are going to school, what they are thinking of majoring in, how they are feeling about this transition. Ask them if they have looked into Christian ministries on campus and a local church to connect with? Most seniors in high school have deeply mixed feelings. On one hand, they are ecstatic to get out of high school. On the other hand, they are terrified of the unknown. Be a peaceful presence in their life. Tell them you are praying for them and are always going to be part of their lives (if you are). Tell them you are going to do some research and networking for them too.
Take some time to look into the campus ministries at the college of your graduating senior. Find out what is available, who is leading the ministry and when/where do they meet? Ask around for anyone in your network who attended this same college. My daughter is graduating this year from high school headed to an in-state public university and I have a friend who did ministry in the area. I reached out to him and he gave me lots of contacts for campus ministry and good local churches. This was gold. Go do the same for your soon to be Freshman. Their future depends on it.
Contact The Parents
Reach out to the parents of those graduating seniors. Ask how you can pray for them. Ask if there is anything else you can do to serve them. Tell them you have done a little research on campus ministries at the school and local churches. Ask them if they would like you to send that to them. This will go a long way with those parents, your relationship with the student and overall church. There will be a ripple effect of your love and blessing on the family. And of course, go to their graduation party!
Get Them Connected (in the First Two Weeks)
With the one-on-one meeting with the student, research around campus ministries, and contact with parents, you are helping set the students up for success. The first two weeks are critical for this incoming Freshman. If they get plugged into the right group, set the right patterns and habits on the weekend, they are bound to hang onto their faith in Jesus, but if they don’t get into the right places and habits the first two weeks of college, they are likely going to tread water. High-risk behaviors around drinking, drugs and key decisions are hanging in the balance their first two weeks. Talk to them about this. Encourage those in your care to reach out to you if they are struggling. Give them grace along the way. Remember, most students are unprepared for their experience in college. Most can’t wait for it, but they have never been put in these situations, so set them up for success. Help them with strategies.
Stay in Contact
Your weekly youth ministry grind will continue long after your graduating seniors are gone, but don’t forget about them. Reach out to them two weeks after they leave for college. Find out how they are doing in managing their time. Ask them if they have connected with a campus ministry and local church. If they haven’t, encourage them to. If they have, ask about them. Ask them how they are managing stress because they will all be feeling the stress. Reach out again in a month. Set up a time to get together individually and with the whole graduating class around Thanksgiving or Christmas. Set up a social media account to stay in contact with the group. Do whatever it takes to stay close with grace and encouragement. Put it on your calendar so you don’t forget.
I know this is lots of work and you already have a load of responsibilities as a youth pastor, but these graduating seniors need you. They know you and your key volunteers have been in their lives for some years. Use this as a mentoring opportunity as they become young adults.