Ah, graduation recognition Sunday.
Yes, if your church is like most of the ones I’ve served in the past, graduate recognition Sunday brings students out of the woodwork. So often I’m handing a Bible and/or a book to a student that long since plugged out of our youth ministry if they even came at all.
I always felt so awkward. You see, I wanted to give something meaningful to the seniors who stuck with our program, but I didn’t want to embarrass them or offend others for being selective in gifts. Some years I just gave everyone a plain-Jane generic type of gift. Other years, I gave everyone an expensive, meaningful gift. Every year I faced this dilemma.
A few years ago I discovered the solution.
Everyone that wants to be recognized in church ought to be recognized, especially if they are a member of the congregation and regardless if they attend youth. It means so much to grandparents and others and it’s a very minor thing to do. So, on graduate Sunday, as a church, we recognize all of our graduating seniors. They all get the same gift. At my current church, that’s a Bible.
However, I now do a special, separate recognition to honor my graduates from the youth group.
A couple of weeks before graduation, we host a graduate’s celebration dinner. We invite all of our adult volunteers, pastoral staff, the graduates and the graduates’ family. I have the non-graduating youth prepare the dinner and the decorations. After dinner, we show a few slideshows from the year and end with a slideshow of the seniors. They each get gifts from the youth group and our non-graduate students read letters about each graduating senior. It gets a little mushy, but it’s our way of honoring our students from our youth group family.
As for gifts, it’s cheap, but very effective. We buy a pillow and pillow case. We then have each student in our ministry sign the case with a permanent marker. Finally, as part of the presentation, each senior signs the other seniors’ pillow cases. It’s intensely personal and very cost effective. It’s also something they can take with them to college, if they choose.
To wrap up the night, our seniors get to address the youth group, adults and ministry leaders. We then lay hands on the seniors and pray them “out” of our youth group.
I like this so much better than our standard graduate recognition on Sunday mornings. It’s intensely personal, relational and appropriate. It shows our graduates how they’ve influenced our group and allows our group to say goodbye in a proper way.
If you’re struggling to find a way to honor your graduates, try this. The only regret I have is not trying it sooner.