A tradition I picked up from one of the churches I served at was holding an end of year banquet for our student ministry. It’s always a huge way to win with families and we have been able to use it to accomplish a few different purposes.
Our end of year banquet serves as a great way to send off Seniors, as we hold it close to graduation time, and though seniors can come to youth group until school starts, it’s usually the last time all of our seniors are together before the busy-ness of summer kicks in. It serves as a great way to welcome incoming 5th graders, as we use this event as their official welcome to student ministry. One of the things I love is that they get to see some of the things that make our Youth Ministry such a great experience, in a way, it’s almost like a giant commercial for 5th graders of “this will be you!” and even better, Parents get to see “this is the value of student ministry in a kids life!” It also is a great connection piece for Parents in our student ministry. Like mentioned above, Parents get to see the value of student ministry, but they also get to connect and interact with other parents, connect with new friends at church, and build relationships to help them navigate the teen years of parenting.
We usually follow the same sort of schedule, which I’ve attached below, but gives room for these elements that we view as critical for what we want to accomplish with our banquet.
1. Keepsake for those making the transition.
Sr.’s get a gift, 8th graders get a gift, and incoming 5th graders get a gift. We’ve usually done student bibles for the 5th graders, something that helps them visualize moving away from kids ministry to gaining more responsibility in student ministry. 8th graders, our favorite gift is to get a nice photo frame with one of those cardboard mattes around it, and having the rest of the middle school students sign their names on the matte. We hang on to the mattes for a few weeks so we can take a nice group picture of the 8th graders at the banquet, and print out nice copies to put in the frames before we give them out. For seniors, we’ve actually found great success having Small Group Leaders own the gifts. We’ve on occasion done gifts that everyone gets, such as the walking sticks, gift cards, laundry packages, but our favorite gifts are ones the Small Group leaders personally pick out for each individual student. We keep a good roster of our seniors, so if one came a bunch in middle school, and then disappeared but wants to come to the banquet, I’ll try and own that or find someone who can.
2. Memories, Memories, Memories.
During dinner, we always have a slideshow of images from the past year. We try and take pictures everyime we get together, and it’s something to try and keep up with throughout the year. If you can make a folder for the photo slideshow in June, and add 30 pictures from youth events, retreats, small groups, get togethers, etc. every month, then you’re going to have a great slideshow next year. If you’re scrambling the week of to go back and find photos, you’re going to have a bad time. We’ll also mix in the graphics for series we did that year, event graphics and whatnot. It’s a slide show to remember the previous year, since this is the end of year banquet after all.
Another aspect of memories we try and focus is having each class take a picture together during the banquet. This is something that will get better with time, as if this is your first year, you probably can’t do this. But imagine your incoming 5th graders and picture their senior banquet. How cool will it be to be able to show that group’s changes over the course of their time in student ministry. A reminder of all they’ve been through together, those who no longer come, and those who have been added. Start it now so you can see the payoff starting next year with your Juniors.
On a similar note, something I haven’t done but REALLY want to, is actually do a video interview of each class with similar questions, so we can show that in future years as a look back.
Memories are a HUGE aspect of our end of year banquet. This is a huge moment in the life of your graduating seniors and their parents. We try and do all we can to help them remember how great youth ministry was, these friends are, and that they are always welcome and they belong here.
3. Calling students to something
After dinner, we usually do a a few charges. The first thing we do is welcome 5th graders. The way we do this is have all the 5th grade students leave the room with a few of our middle school small group leaders who will be with them. Then, all of our other students and leaders make a human tunnel, and we call the middle schoolers in one at a time to run down the gauntlet of high fives welcoming them to Youth Group. After they are all up front, we hand them all their gifts, say a prayer over the group and have them take seats. I, or when applicable our Middle school director, will speak very briefly to parents about the hope of the evening, seeing the value of student ministry, and getting a glimpse of why this isn’t as scary as they think, we are here for them, and they want their kids to be a part of it. Then, I like to choose one of the middle school small group leaders to share for just a minute on why they love middle school ministry and what they are looking forward to about having these new kids join their small group.
For the 8th graders, we keep it brief as well, 10-15 minutes tops. We talk about the meaning and hope of their gifts, lay out what they can now expect, as well as remembering where they were 3 years ago. One of our HS small group leaders will usually give a brief challenge to stick with youth ministry no matter what happens in High School, calling them out to greater expectations, deeper responsibility, and more. It’s all a rah rah type charge, like a coach at halftime pushing their team to stay the course for victory.
Seniors is where we spend a bulk of time. Every year, we record an interview with our sr.’s going over a few questions, and edit this to be about 20 minutes each year. It’s something they all know to expect and look forward to, it’s their farewell to student ministry, thank you to their leaders, and just a great moment for their student ministry. Every year, I’m moved to tears, seeing the growth in the students, and saying farewell. It’s all good, as usually everyone else is crying, too.
Then, each senior gets an individual charge. Our adult leaders all sign up in a meeting on who they are going to talk for, and they purchase the personal gift. We try and have each leader speak for 1-2 minutes about that student, and it’s usually a leader signs up for them because they have a deep relational investment in that student. It’s a time to look back, encourage the students growth, and give the personal “here is what I see in you, here is my prayer for you and my hope for you.”
After that, we always have everyone come up and make a big circle, with the seniors in the middle, and pray over them, pray over the 8th and 5th graders, and wrap up the night.
Finally, here’s a few random thoughts on end of year banquets that we’ve found help us have a better event, and you may appreciate as well.
- Have the event catered. Even if you just buy a few big platters of pasta from a restaurant, pay for food. We did it a few times where we cooked the food, but that took so much away from having our parents and volunteers AT the event, we always found it worth it to have minimal prep work or clean up after, and families have always been willing to pay.
- If you charge, keep it cheap. We want as many people to come as possible, and we encourage our whole church to come as well, as this is a great glimpse into student ministry. We usually do $8 or $10 a person, but no more than $30 for families. Find what works for your budget.
- Your Small Group Leaders are just as invested in students as you are, so give them the mic as much as possible. Think of yourself as an MC at most, but even, make it your goal to hold the mic at all, except maybe to welcome and open the night. This is a celebration of all the small group leaders have done for students, and we’ve also seen great payoff from a new small group leader of a 6th grade group seeing the investment of one of our small group leaders of the seniors, and giving that ideal to strive for that we hope for our small group leaders.
- Have your seniors plan the theme and decorations. You’ll want as much involvement from your seniors as you can, giving them as much ownership as possible helps ensure they are going to show up. It’s also always fun to plan the after party, for us that was typically a bonfire that all the students came to after.
- Get your Sr. Pastor to be part of the program. Having your Sr. pastor close the night in prayer is always a great idea.
- Take pictures OF the event. Delegate this off to someone, but have a few pictures of the event, so that on the following Sunday, or whenever your graduation Sunday is, you can call back to it for your church to see.
Here’s a few other random pictures from our past banquets to help spur ideas, and you can also grab our remade banquet graphics pack here.