Editor’s Note: This month, as we all get in the back-to-school groove, we’re featuring articles from previous Youth Leaders Only Resource Books — articles that hit on some of the fundamentals of student ministry. We picked these articles because we know that “Back to School” is also an important time for your youth ministry as you incorporate new volunteers, new students, new systems, and new ideas. From all of us at interlinc … Welcome Back to “Normal”!
You know how a “good idea” can get shoved to the bottom of the priority list in a busy youth ministry schedule? I had an idea for a senior trip, but it took a back seat to a confirmation class that I was informed I would “have to do” for four important seniors. Towards the end of the class someone suggested that we take a trip to celebrate, which seemed like a good wrap-up event to me. So we went. After the weekend was over, I drove home stoked about the good conversations we had.
Right then and there I knew that the senior trip would become a yearly ministry event.
My students were insanely busy, so I scheduled our senior trips to occur about seven weeks before graduation. This made sure that we had an open weekend and wouldn’t infringe on finals or the many grad activities. Doing the trip so early meant I was able to set the table for graduation—the words and memories from our senior trip would be the frame for them as they threw the cap and looked toward life on their own.
A good senior trip can be a perfect time to push “pause” and clarify the things in their life that contributed to their spiritual growth. I wanted them to finish the trip with a clear plan to get plugged-in to a church and keep growing after graduation. So the purpose of the trip was both celebration and reflection.
We had a lot of fun decorating the vehicles that we used—shoe polish on the windows, streamers inside—we made the trip feel like a party. We even created mix CDs of songs from all four years of their high school and played Name That Tune while we drove. Since we spent most of Friday traveling we didn’t have much time or energy to do a big meeting. I always started with playing a fun grad-focused board game. The game is like “Candyland” or “Chutes and Ladders,” but the players encounter various college situations (“Eat Roommate’s Food, Go Back 3 Spaces”). After the game I had them start on their “written plan” for continuing to grow in their faith after graduation. The paper had these questions: “What are the three biggest questions / concerns you have as you graduate? What way do you think you’ll change the most after graduation? What about who you are do you think won’t change at all? What kind of pressure do you think you’ll feel the most at college / on your own?”
On Saturday, we played. I took lots of pictures, had a ton of fun, and made sure that I had some good solid time with each senior. By the end of the day I knew what everyone was doing for the summer, where they were going in the fall, what their major was going to be, and when they were leaving. We also reminisced—I could easily get them going on the “remember when…” stories.
Saturday evening or Sunday morning I had a graph that the students filled out. On the horizontal axis was their age (1–18) and on the vertical access was “Close to God” and “Far from God.” The graph helped them see that spiritual growth is not a 45-degree line, but that there are ups and downs. I had the seniors write down two “victories”— times that God showed up in their lives big time. I think it’s very powerful for seniors to see their spiritual progress graphs and be able to look at them again later.
I had the students unpack Proverbs 3:5 & 6. I also loaded them up with a bunch of verses about-online.com how we must bring God into our decision making process. I then had them talk through Matthew 21:28–31 and write the answers to: What decisions have you made that helped you live out your faith? What decisions might you need to make before you’re faced with a situation?
Finally, I had the seniors write what aspects of church helped them grow, what parts of discipleship helped them grow, what life-values helped them grow, and what service projects helped them grow. They ended up with a list of what to search for and reconnect with in a new church or college ministry. I then had them fold up the paper and stick it in the front cover of their Bible.
I tried to have coffee with each senior individually sometime between the trip and graduation. Walking a senior through his or her spiritual growth over the last four years and highlighting gifts or traits that you love about him or her can have a huge impact. In August I called all the parents and got the new addresses and e-mails for the grads. Then I sent encouraging e-mails monthly and asked my former seniors about the church / ministry where they were plugged-in. I also scheduled coffee or lunch with those grads when they came back home for Christmas break.
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