There is a reason, however, that it is called COMMENCEMENT. Many years ago few people moved on from high school into college so it was the beginning of their lives as adults and they were expected to carry the responsibility of adults. Many would get married after high school and start families and careers that didn't require further education. Commencement or graduation had great meaning. Now, after high school most students go on to college and the expectation of entering society as a mature and independent adult has been stretched out until their early 20's or after college graduation.Therefore, over time the meaning or sentiment behind commencement has changed much like that of the rite of confirmation. (See that posting here.)
What about the church?
There have been studies and surveys about why young adults leave the church after high school. While teenagers leave the youth group to go on to college the question is, were they a part of the church or just a part of the youth group? This is not a matter of programs. It's a matter of maturity. Perhaps by focusing too much on the youth group and their activities we forget to mature them into adults in the church.
How do we best honor graduating high school seniors?
Do we treat high school graduation as a great accomplishment? Certainly. But perhaps it is best to treat it as a commencement instead of a graduation. It is easy to support students who go away to college. It is difficult to keep them going to church during this time. It is, after all, their first time as independent people who have to decide whether or not to get themselves out of bed on Sunday morning. Honor your graduating high school seniors by:
- Praying for them regularly throughout their college years.
- Keeping them connected to their home church via email, Facebook, and other social media sites.
- Provide a Facebook page where members of the youth group can continue communicating with each other, sharing experiences, etc. after graduation.
- Invite them to participate in the church over holiday breaks as young adults.
- Provide opportunities for them to share their input in the church as young adults.
If we continue to treat them as kids without mature expectations and transitioning them into the church as adults, they will stall in their congregational maturity, reminiscing or grieving the loss of the youth group and never really seeing themselves as adult members of the church.
Commencement after college?
Perhaps it would be wise to honor college graduates by having a short service to make them official members of the congregation and getting them involved as adults in the congregation. Ask them to:
- participate on committees or boards.
- participate in worship.
- help teaching Sunday School.
- help with children or the youth (with appropriate expectations).
- be a part of church music.
The most important thing is to ASK THEM. Don't wait for them to ask you. Make them feel they are a valuable part of the congregation!