By Ken McCoy • JumpStart Ministries • Charlotte, North Carolina
It usually happens sometime just after Christmas. You notice it first in the eyes. There is an unmistakable dullness, a reluctance to initiate or maintain eye contact, and a general downcast direction to their vision. The disease then spreads to the rest of the body. The infected body begins to slouch even more than usual during ministry events. It then moves to the back of the room. Arms are crossed and shoulders shrugged. In advanced cases, the body completely disappears from all youth ministry functions. It is a disease that strikes a majority of Graduating Seniors in their last year of high school. And it is the bane of youth leaders everywhere: Senioritis. It is especially “virulent” in this COVID-19 environment!
A significant challenge right now is to keep Seniors involved all the way up until graduation. When Senioritis hits, it is a huge disappointment to those that work with teenagers. Just when you think that all your hard work is going to pay off, your Seniors mentally check out of high school… and your ministry along with it.
Here are some pointers that will help you avoid and deal with this insidious disease.
As we’re learning in this COVID-19 situation, preventing a disease is always better than dealing with it once you have it. The same holds true for Senioritis. There are several things you can do in advance to minimize its impact:
Many youth leaders do not realize how much the way that they organize their ministry contributes to the onset of Senioritis. Programs that do things for the students rather than with them encourage the disease. A good motto for your ministry’s structure could be “Student-Led, Staff-Directed.” By involving the students in doing the ministry, rather than merely watching the ministry being done to them, you can ensure that more Seniors will remain involved in the ministry all the way through graduation.
You may be thinking, “But we do involve our kids in the ministry. We ask them what they want to do, and have them plan the activities.” If so, then you’re getting there. However, planning and promoting activities won’t always keep the attention and loyalty of a sharp 17-year-old. But when real responsibility is planned into the ministry, Seniors stay enthusiastic. What’s “real” responsibility? Give them positions on your leadership team that make Seniors responsible for people, not just tasks. When students know that others are entrusting them with the growth of younger Christians, they then tend to take the preparation of ministry training more seriously.
One of the toughest issues concerning working with Seniors is that they sometimes feel that they have already experienced everything available to them in their youth group. But, by reserving some activities, opportunities, and responsibilities just for them, you create anticipation… kids can hardly wait to become a Senior so they can be on the Senior Staff, go to the Seniors-Only retreat, sit in the Seniors’ balcony — or whatever you can creatively sanctify (“set apart”) for Seniors’ use. Most high school campuses understand this; that’s why there are Senior Squares, Quads, Benches, or Halls at most schools.
Related to the Anticipation medicine is the idea of “bookend events” for Seniors. At the beginning of the school year, schedule a Seniors-Only event (retreat, day-trip, etc.), and then plan another at the end of the school year. During the fall event, you want to accomplish some goal-setting for the year… some planning and dreaming about making this final year their best one. Then, work that plan as hard as you can! At the conclusion of the school year, use this material for a Grads’ event where you recapture the great moments of the previous nine months.
EMERGENCY ROOM PROCEEDURES
You don’t have to be stuck with some listless, apathetic Grads. The COVID-19 situation can’t keep you from doing these three “P’s”:
It is wise to take a cue from Jesus; when His disciples asked Him why a particularly stubborn demon wouldn’t respond to them, Jesus said, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” That’s not to say that your Senioritis victims are demon-possessed— just that sometimes the best thing you can do is talk with God. Only He can change people from the inside out. Your prayer should be that He would grant your Seniors a “willing spirit” (Psalm 52:12).
One group of people is generally more interested in your Grads than you are: their parents! By communicating with parents the signs and pitfalls of Senioritis, you can enlist their support to work with you to keep the involvement of your Seniors high on the priority scale.
Most people avoid conflict. When they sense that something is wrong, they want to pretend that everything is all right. As a youth leader, you need to realize that Senioritis, although common, is not good. By talking with your Grads about what they are experiencing, you may be able to help them identify their condition, and determine to make the most of their final weeks in the youth ministry.