This is the first of a three-part series on graduating high school seniors. Regardless of whether they are moving on to college, heading to technical school, going into the service, or starting a career, graduating seniors need some things from us as a church, from previous mentors and leaders, and from parents.
This article will discuss “Blessing Them Well.” The next will discuss “Sending Them Well.” The last in the series will address the need for churches in college towns to “Receive Them Well.”
As our high school seniors near graduation, it is both a difficult time and one for celebration in the life of a church. That reality is even more difficult this year with the effects of COVID-19. Many of the traditional “rites of passage” simply don’t exist right now. Graduation services are virtual and seem hollow and shallow. Baccalaureate services aren’t happening. The joys of signing yearbooks with other seniors and leaving their wisdom for each other’s lives just isn’t the same. The last “this” and the final “that” just won’t be happening. Even the church service where graduates are honored may or may not occur. Some churches will be reopened by then; some will not.
Something wondrous happens when we as a church bless our graduating seniors. The graduates feel honored and appreciated. Parents are bursting with pride and holding back tears at the same time. Former Sunday School teachers and small group leaders are remembering their contributions. Former children’s choir leaders are swapping stories of days’ past. Oh, and don’t forget younger brothers and sisters. They are actively making plans to “claim dibs” on the larger bedroom when their sibling moves out.
This is such an important time for the graduating seniors and those in the church who have invested in their lives. Just as we’ve all had to adapt and adjust during the past two months, we need to adapt and adjust how we honor our seniors and bless them well.
Our students’ lives are spent online and on social media. To bless them well this year, we may need to make sure we use these tools ourselves. I’m sure there are many churches using the internet for this, but one in particular has caught my attention.
Every day for the past couple of weeks, Northside Baptist Church in Tifton has been honoring their graduates individually with a Facebook post highlighting their lives and their plans for the fall. I’ve included an example to illustrate. That is a creative way to honor your grads when the traditional church service for that purpose just can’t happen. Here are a few ideas I would add:
- If you use the internet, make sure you use all relevant platforms. Include the ones, like Facebook, where parents and grandparents will look. Don’t forget the social media options where the students themselves regularly visit – like Snapchat and Instagram.
- Honor each student individually. This is not the time for a group picture.
- Please send the name, phone number, email address, and campus plans for each of your college-bound seniors to us here in our department. These can be sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org We will make sure their information goes to Baptist Collegiate Ministries and local churches in that city. We want their college years to include local Baptist churches and on-campus ministry that will continue to help them grow as disciples and help them find God’s plan for their lives.
- Project a day during the summer, after social distancing allows, to honor graduates again. However, don’t miss the opportunity to do something special now – when all the traditional rites and events are missing.
- Encourage church members who’ve invested in the seniors’ lives to write a note of blessing and hope. High school students don’t get much “real” mail these days. It will make an impression.
- Parents – encourage your seniors to write a note to church members they remember as having made significant contributions to their lives. Older members still get mail – but these will be special. And it never hurts for people to be given a heartfelt “thank you” from a young person. That will also make an impression.
This is an unusual year and we will need to think of unusual ways to do ministry. Along the way, we will likely discover some new and even more effective ways to bless our seniors. Doing so will hold great meaning for your graduates, their parents, and all who’ve invested in their lives – from the nursery all the way through to the youth group.