Dealing With Senior Fade


By Keely DeBoever

It’s that time of year again. Students everywhere are ordering their caps and gowns, sending out their invitations, and readying themselves for what comes next. At home, their parents are complaining that they already have one foot out the door. For youth ministers, it is the time of year when we are tirelessly working to perfect our slideshow transitions and to find the most emotionally touching/least cheesy graduate-themed song to send them off. As we do this, we suddenly realize that the students we are making such a fuss over have barely darkened the doors of the church lately. How we handle these precious last few months can make a huge impact on these students moving forward. So what can we do to best serve our students during this time?

    As ministers (and human beings, really), it can be incredibly easy to take personally the actions of others: to perceive them as a direct result of our performance, relationship, and so on. Our students, who once asked “What are we doing tonight?” with excitement and anticipation, now ask the same question with a tone that really says, “Does any of this matter?” We often take these words as criticism, instead of taking them as a challenge. It isn’t personal. It is a natural part of their development. They are at the age when they are looking for quality over quantity. Your seniors may have been at every event or study you ever offered when they were younger, but now they are looking for maximum meaning in the small windows of time that they have between studying, working, playing sports, socializing, and everything else. Our task is to make the most of those few moments we have. Let them know you’re glad they are there…and not in a, “Wow! I haven’t seen you in AGES” kind of way. Stress is a real thing for our students, and high schoolers are feeling it now more than they ever have before. Don’t add to that. Rather, let church be a place of rest and renewal. Lean in and find out how you can help them in these few months. And, most of all, be glad they made the time to be there, and acknowledge that effort often.
    High School Seniors are 18, going on 30. They think they know everything about everything. Of course we know differently; however, the truth is they do know a lot more than they ever have before and can relate to other students in a way that youth leaders simply cannot. Lean into that. Treat them like adults and leaders. Allow them to lead the other youth in small groups or even in the large group study. Tap into their strengths and interests in a way that communicates to them that what they have learned over the years actually matters. Plus, we all know that one of the best ways to learn and retain information is by teaching it to someone else. Give them the opportunity to do this and they will also learn as a part of the process.
    Sending them out brings what you are doing in those first two steps full circle. We must acknowledge that moving forward is a natural part of their spiritual growth. We have all surely experienced that one kid who never really wanted to leave youth group. And, we get it…it’s comfortable, it’s fun, and it’s easier to be a follower than it is to be a leader. However, at a certain point we must let go and trust the process. Jesus knew this all too well, when he prepared his disciples for his departure. It would have been easy for him to think that they needed more time, or that they weren’t ready to take on such a big responsibility. However, he knew that they were capable of more than they could ever know. Our students need to hear this from us. They live in a world that says teenagers can’t do much. We need to remind them of all that they are capable of and that they are created in the image of a God who will walk beside them every step of the way!