senior fade: a thought

graduationlast week at my new youth ministry coaching program group in nashville, during a conversation about seniors in their second semester fading away from what was previously a high commitment to the youth ministry, one of the guys (brad fiscus, the director of youth ministries for the tennessee conference of the united methodist church) suggested a very intriguing idea.

we all know that senior are super busy. we all know they have extra pressures. and we all know they’re distracted.

but brad posed this fantastic question:

Could the drop off of seniors be a factor of them distancing themselves in preparation for the forced separation of graduating out of our groups?

that sure reframes things. i mean, think of it this way: “lame ducks” almost always fade. heck, the vast majority of youth workers i know who are moving to another church, have a hard time maintaining passion and energy in their current role, even if they still genuinely care for the church and students.

if we think of seniors in this light, i wonder if it would give us more compassion for them, rather than the guilting and cajoling i hear from so many youth workers. instead of “how can i get you to come to youth group?” our question becomes, “how can i serve you in this transition?”

9 thoughts on “senior fade: a thought”

  1. Our Youth Ministry has always allowed a “Grace” year in between graduation and the completion of their first year out of high school where we encourage students to hang around and continue to be involved in our weekly worship service, retreats, missions projects and fun activities. We do not allow them to go to our annual summer camp a solid year after graduation, but we encourage them at every turn to hang with us. Our College Age Singles meet at an alternative time for “Lifegroups” (formerly known as Sunday School) so that they can get plugged in to serving in many different areas. So, we try to encourage them to stay plugged into the body. Less than 10% of our students go “away” for college since we live in a pretty solid college town… We’ve been practicing this for going on 14 years and it seems to really help. We do have issues with the 22 years old and older really wanting “something new” to latch onto. That’s where our weakness is. I watch our youth pastor struggle with shepherding students from 6 through their 12th grade years and then on and on and on and when does it end. We don’t have that pool for them to dive into. Maybe soon we will see someone rise up to lead that group. (I pray!)

  2. We have been practicing the idea of serving down (I know it sounds condescending) . As freshmen in college we ask them to serve down, either in middle school or with the freshman in high school. This keeps them plugged in to the community of our ministry but allows them to move into and grow into a different level of involvement. We are not a college town and most of our students do go away. As a result our college ministry is pretty lame (think about the singles table at weddings, yikes!) But for those that do go away, I can see this as true. They emotionally disengage, but the “why” is interesting.

  3. Something we’ve done the past number of years is offer a “College Prep Course” for our graduating students early in the spring. We host it at our home and cover topics like money, truth, time management, dealing with parents, etc. It seems to go over really well and the seniors love having something just for them. We’ve also started doing grad trips at the end of the school year as well.

  4. I’m just surprised this hasn’t occurred to more people. There’s a HUGE life shift facing these kids. I’m not sure we do them a favor by allowing them to hang around after graduation. It keeps them backwards focused. The other problem is noting those places where the youth ministry is disconnected from the worship and life of the whole congregation. You should be working towards the transition a couple years BEFORE they graduate.

  5. Thanks for starting the conversation Marko, that thought came to me during our discussion but I guess it has probably been lingering in my brain for a while. I think that we have to be aware that as our Seniors start that move towards post high school, they have a load of stress piling upon them. Some of this stress has to do with normal life stage but even more has to do with the stresses of test scores, scholarships, and I believe even more stressful the preparation for separation from what is known to what is unknown. Think about each of the transitions we go through in our age development, the transition from Pre-School to Kindergarten, Kindergarten to 1st grade, and then from Elementary School to middle, and add stress as they transition from Middle School to High School. Each of the stress points must be important to way we engage and minister to/with them during these processes. We have an innate ability to protect ourselves from pain and uncertainty, separation is one of those ways we use to limit that pain.

  6. Now that Kel and I’ve parented two 18 year-old’s ourselves, we feel like we could now do youth ministry better. Being a parent of older teens, as you know, is a daily learning process!

    I learned the difficult way as a youth worker that youth group participation does not equal spiritual vitality! Youth could be following Jesus quite closely and never attend my youth group. For both of my 18 year olds, they attended a kickin’ youth ministry with great youth pastors/leaders. Having watched each (and their friends) go thru this transition, I don’t know that I’d call this fade ‘distancing.’ My very small research with a very small sample size (n=2) would say the reasons for the fade are quite varied from teen to teen. And, I agree, that guilting/shaming never gets a youth worker anywhere. So, the better pastoral response would be to listen first… and then learn what’s happening in each teen’s life situation… THEN make any adjustments to the ministry.

    Good post. I might have to weigh in on the topic more next week.


  7. My question was not necessarily referring of a distancing from their faith as more in relation to distancing from their youth group environment if they were a participant. I agree that they are each uniquely wired however I also know from my experience as a former high school teacher, student leadership advisor, and coach that distancing happens due to the stress load they carry. What some might perceive as a “I don’t need them attitude” may very well be more of an “I can’t handle anything else on my plate” reality. just some thoughts as a response to a question raised by another youthmin in our cohort.

  8. great question/observation

    we haven’t been able to take Jeremy’s idea year round yet (though I’ve thought about it) but we do something similer for the last month to 6 weeks before graduation

    sadly, in our youth ministry the last few years we’re noticing more and more Juniors with what is often called “senioritis” as the pressures to prepare for College, SATs and Applications seem to be creeping earlier and earlier into the High School stage

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