Honestly, this is one of my least favorite youth ministry practices. Youth Sunday/luncheon/slideshow/newsletter/Bibles/gifts/bearhugs is just one of those things that OCD will never let you believe you got right. You forgot somebody. Someone’s invite got lost in the mail and they don’t read your weekly email. You said nice things about one kid and mom thinks that you didn’t say as many about hers.
At the end of the day, you can only do what you can do. And what you “do” to honor your seniors varies wildly from church to church. But here are a few suggestions that may help you successfully reach everyone you intend to honor:
Leave no stone unturned.
Administration isn’t in the top 5 gifts of most fun-loving youthworkers. Don’t presume that your record-keeping is thorough enough to make sure you’re including everybody. Check with your church admin if you have one. Find the records that someone else is keeping to track members of the church. Ask everyone you meet. You’re missing someone, even if it’s just the senior in the visiting family that’s nearly come often enough to be included. Invite families you know won’t come.
Don’t trust the postal service.
If you haven’t heard back from a family, reach out a week before whatever deadline you’ve established for RSVPs. Sometimes they didn’t get it. Sometimes it gets forgotten. Don’t count on a stamp to do your job. Stamps tire easily and lose motivation when they arrive.
Don’t be ashamed to beg.
One of the last things I do each year is to send through all the various church-wide communication outlets a desperate, honest plea: If you’ve got a senior in your family and you haven’t heard from us, please, please don’t take it personally and go ahead and RSVP. It’s clearly our fault somewhere; help us make it right by letting us honor your senior.
It’s not a cop-out, it’s your last best shot to let someone get involved. Maybe you did overlook them. Maybe they haven’t been to church in 6 years but have been planning the whole time to show up to be honored. Let them. Odds are that if you don’t hear from anyone after this, you never will.
Above all, avoid the temptation to get judicial about who gets to go/eat/receive/whatever as a part of your senior recognition. If they’re a senior and they want in, let them in. It doesn’t matter if they never participated in the youth program. It doesn’t matter if they told you to your face that they think you’re an idiot. Don’t make them right.
And don’t forget to mourn well the ones that have meant the most to you. Before they leave.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Flora