the myth of senioritis

This is it, the final semester of high school for the class of 2011.  They have been suffering from senioritis for a long time, and for many of them, long before they were even seniors. According to wikipedia, “the main symptoms of senioritis include procrastination, lack of motivation, a drop in academic performance, and ‘coasting,’ which is the act of going through classes with very little concentration or application of intent along with truancy."

I wonder if this dreaded disease might not really be a disease at all, but a way to justify the massive drop off of engagement and participation from our seniors. Our seniors live into this description, and many of my fellow youth workers do as well.  But when I step back and actually look at my seniors, what I see is a group of students who have figured out what is important and what things aren't.  Because senors are practically adults, they feel empowered to make their own decisions regarding their time and effort.

They know what things bring them life and what things are purposeful.  They willingly pour hours into friendships because they realize that this is the last time they are going to be together with this group of people.  Seniors do well and study hard for their AP classes because they know that their AP tests which will give them college credits.  They practice and train hard for teams that are competitive. and at the same time they understand that more and more of their life is being filled with busy work, barely worthy of their time and attention.   The teachers and coaches who are just filling time get students who begin to show signs of senioritis.  The same might be true with our student ministries.

The truth is that seniorites really isn’t a disease at all, but rather a truth serum.  What seniors do with their time and attention is the true test of what they see as valuable and important.  So, maybe the reason for seniors beginning to lose interest in youth group is not senioritis at all, but a true representation of how valuable they think youth group is.

Since we know seniors are fully engaged in the things they think matter, the bigger question is how to actually reach out to and meet the needs of our seniors.  If student ministry mattered to seniors and they viewed it as important, they would be there in mass.  So, letting them fade away because of senioritis is a crime.  We are youth workers who are called to run after and care for students, and last I checked, seniors are still students.

To help seniors stay connected we need to:

  1. Give them a purpose for participating in youth group. For students who have been around a while, youth group can and should be pretty old.  Youth group is really designed for 10th and 11th graders.  They have heard your lessons, played your games, and heard your jokes and stories many times.  There isn’t a lot for them to get out of youth group.  And truthfully, there shouldn’t be.  But what an opportunity to give them a bigger purpose for participating in youth group.  Help them see themselves as leaders, tone setters, as mentors to the younger students.  By calling out the truth that youth group isn’t for them, they get to live into their true calling as servant leaders.
  2. Give them responsibility at youth group. You are probably a great communicator, and your leaders probably do a fantastic job of leading games.  But what if we all stepped back from some of our up front responsibility and gave that to students.  Maybe seniors should get special privileges, like allowing them to teach at youth group and Sunday school, or help lead games, trips, and activities, then they will have some ownership.  There is something they have to do, and if they have to do it, chances are they will show up, support their friends, and model that to younger students.  Their senior year is the time for them to step up, not step away.  We play a huge rule in what we allow, or don’t allow them to do.
  3. Help shape their understanding of faith development and community.  I always get my feelings hurt when my seniors complain that youth group is boring or not deep.  And while that may be true on one level, on a deeper level this is completely not true.  We can not let students develop the mental patterns that youth group or church is not relevant for them.  Have you noticed that your church service doesn’t change much, or ever.  We do announcements, sing songs, and preach from a passage of scripture.  That is it. And if our students are going to get plugged in to church and stay plugged into youth group, part of our job is shaping their experience.  Youth group and church are part of life, and life is normal and often boring.  Running with perseverance is what we are called to do.  Perseverance means that it is not easy or fun, but  a discipline.  We stay connected and we keep working out our faith in community during normal life, and second semester of your senior year is about as normal as it gets.

There is still five months left of high school for our seniors.  That is so much time.  There are over 150 days left, with over 20 youth groups.  There are  so many conversations still to be had and so many opportunities for ministry still to be done.  Let’s work hard to hold on to our seniors, celebrate them, empower them, disciple them, and then launch them into whatever god has next.