Graduation Sunday: A Proper Send-Off

One of the wonderful ways the church can nurture and encourage graduating seniors is to make the worship service when they're honored a special, unforgettable time.

This article originally appeared in Let's Worship Magazine.

When students go to college, a majority of them drop out of church or their attendance is sporadic, at best. One of the students' home church's responsibilities is to not only nurture them, but to encourage these students for their next step in life. One of the wonderful ways the church can nurture and encourage graduating seniors is to make the worship time when they're honored a special, unforgettable time in their lives. That's why planning and actuating the day is so important.

Of all the special worship days observed in churches, Graduation Sunday is my favorite. First, I love to be around students of this age because of the energy, fun, and anticipation they exude. It keeps me young, at least in my mind! It's hard to grow up even in the best of situations. The truth is that a lot of students grow up with an unsettled home life. The only constants in these student's lives are school, friends, and church. If they're going to college after high school, these constants will certainly change.

The entire day should be centered on graduating seniors, their future, and their walk with the Lord. I hope the ideas presented will spark the worship planners to make this day extra special for this group of students.

Planning worship for graduation Sunday

As we plan for the worship time, we should be as creative and relevant as possible. As you know, the more creativity, the more work. You may want to include photographs of the students as babies, followed by their graduation photographs. The graduates' life verses or favorite Scripture passages also could be tied into this presentation. Display them either as a special video accompanied by an appropriate worship song - recorded or live - or show them as each graduate walks across the platform. You could also show a  video of church student activities during the worship time.

As a special touch, the worship planner could survey the students for their favorite song or hymn to be included in the worship time. This survey could include other items, such as future college or other plans, ambitions and goals, life verses or favorite Scriptures, dates or ages of becoming  believers, and testimonies.

One tradition of this type of service is the processional into the worship center. Consider adding an instrumental piece or a special hymn or song to the processional. The congregation should stand to honor the graduates as they enter.

Another tradition is the individual honoring of each graduate. As they walk across the stage, a pastor or staff member should greet them and present them with a Bible or other gift. Have the respective families stand as each graduate is individually honored. However the honoring of the graduates is done, they should be honored as a group at the end of the individual honors.

The pastor or guest speaker should bring a positive message of clarity, hope, and excitement about what God has in store for the graduates. The message should be tailored specifically for the church or group. As a special worship segment, one or two graduates may give a brief testimony of what their church has meant to them as they have grown. A worship pastor or planner should review these testimonies prior to the event. Or, a youth leader or teacher could speak a word of encouragement to the graduates.

Extra worship ideas for graduation Sunday

Extra activities could include a special breakfast or luncheon for the students and their families, either at the church or a local restaurant.  This meal should be oriented toward fellowship, not a time of preaching or singing.

Distribute appropriate gifts, such as a study Bible with the students' name engraved on the cover; a challenging book that gives them hope and guidance for the future; or a special piece of jewelry with a cross or engraving.

Consider preparing USB drives containing video files of the graduation worship service, special songs, and a message from the pastor and other church staff who have served as leaders to these students. If possible, have their parents and siblings record special messages. Place these gifts at the place settings before the fellowship meal.

Whatever you do for graduation Sunday, make it memorable! These students who have grown up in your church deserve the honor of this special day.

Stan Loyd is the events/field sales specialist for LifeWay Worship. Stan spent 35 years in local church ministry as a worship pastor before coming to LifeWay. Stan and his wife live in Nashville, Tennessee.