The Senior Shift


It is the moment that many seniors are waiting for: the transition from high school to college. It is full of emotions. Excitement, curiosity, and new experiences abound as they prepare to begin a new chapter in life.

On the side of the student ministry leader, this season is actually one of the most important chapters in the completion of a student’s journey through youth ministry.

In some ways, it is the starting line instead of the finish line in their student ministry journey because, after years of preparation, they will now be on their own in the real world. A world full of opportunity and on a campus of people who desperately need the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The college campus provides an often-overlooked opportunity. See, the college campus is one of the most strategic mission fields in the world.

As Bill Bright said, “If we can reach the campus, we can reach the world.” Thousands come and gather together in college towns all across the nation every single fall. And this movement presents one of the greatest opportunities in the world to reach, disciple, and send college graduates to the ends of the earth. Needless to say, it is a big deal.

Therefore, youth ministry matters. And the decisions a leader makes in the final chapter of high school ministry can alter the trajectory of how an incoming college freshman approaches their campus. Instead of fumbling over the finish line, it is essential that a leader finishes strong in their equipping of a student for this new season of life.

How do you prepare someone to be sent to college? Here are three principles to consider:

Discipleship. Discipleship. Discipleship. Isaiah said “Holy, Holy, Holy” to describe the holiness of God and its sheer uniqueness (Isaiah 6). The repetition of the word is intentional so that the reader understands how emphatic the writer is. This is actually how we should feel about discipleship in youth ministry.

I understand that the “Return on Investment” with discipleship in a youth ministry may not generate the masses in attendance that someone wants to see in a student gathering. I also understand that the years of discipleship in a student’s life brings many challenges as they wrestle with sin and are sanctified in Christ.

But college campuses do not need incoming freshmen who have merely come in contact with the Word. They need students for whom the Word lives inside of them (John 15:7). Commit to discipling students in your church. Do whatever it takes to see that they mature as fully devoted followers of Jesus who not only hear the Word but do the Word (James 1:22).

Teach them to love the local church. I love age-graded ministry. It is effective in reaching and discipling children and students. But, age-graded ministry is not enough. Graduating seniors need the whole church. Following Jesus happens best in community. Is it normal for Christians to grow and thrive in Christ apart from a group of believers?

One of the biggest challenges that incoming freshmen face is connecting with a local church in their college town. After a week of welcome, college students will generally settle in their new rhythms for the next four years.

Equip your students to find a Gospel-centered, Bible-believing, missional church. And teach them to find it ASAP and to join in as a covenant member.

Use the final year of youth ministry to take students to their college campuses and meet pastors, leaders, and church communities. Make the bridge as easy as possible to cross for them. They need it more than they know.

Choose Mission over Mascot. To steal a phrase from the church planting community, what if the primary variable in a graduating senior’s journey was not what school they prefer, but which school can you have the greatest impact for the Kingdom of God?

Churches in college towns need strong college freshmen. Turn your student ministry into a missionary factory and focus their purpose on being sent (Matthew 28:19).

Choose a campus that needs Jesus, and celebrate seniors as they are sent. What if instead of senior recognition, we had sending recognition: a celebration as students took a step of obedience into a mission field of engaging people far from Jesus with the Gospel?

We are saved to be sent. Therefore, send those seniors.

Ethan McCreary is lead pastor of The Well Church, Huntsville.

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