We recently capped off our school year by hosting our “End of the Year Celebration.” We had local ice cream and other snacks, games, Drift Trikes, music, and small groups. It was an absolute blast with so many fun moments and memories.
Our rhythm has been that we scale back summer programming because we live in a tourist area. Our local populace leaves for vacation as the tourists come in, which presents unique circumstances to contend with. Our ministry engages the summer in a way that allows us to best minister to our students and families by hosting specific gatherings, events, and by incorporating different summer trips.
I know that not all of us enter the end of the school year in the same way. Many ministries run a full program year-round, so thinking about a year-end celebration may not sound like something you would host. But I would still encourage you, regardless of your ministry rhythms, to highlight the end of the school year for your students. There are certain milestones in our students’ lives that are important, but often slip by unnoticed, and this is one of them. Being able to recognize their hard work and achievement, and to celebrate the start of a new season, is important and will show them love and care.
If you host celebrations like these, how do you ensure they are successful and meaningful for your students while still supporting the vision and mission of your program? I want to share a few tips I have learned over the years that help to ensure that these moments are truly successful for your ministry, your leaders, and your students.
1. Make it relational and fun.
Year-end celebrations should be highly relational and centered around bringing students together to recognize the milestone. These are celebratory opportunities to engage and have fun with your students as they do the same with their friends. The end of the school year can be hyper-stressful and busy. Simply creating a space to have fun and celebrate with people who love and care about them gives students an opportunity to relax and feel seen and loved.
The focus of these celebrations should be about connection and community. So seek to have activities that bring people together, create moments for small groups to connect, provide free snacks, and encourage your leaders to hang out and connect with their students.
2. Utilize local resources.
One of my favorite things to do it support local small businesses whenever possible. We recently had a new ice creamery open in one of our nearby communities and we have partnered with them with great success. It isn’t just the local partnership that makes this a success. It’s the fact that our students know and love the ice creamery and when we announce we have them coming to an event, they are instantly excited and invite their friends. When you know your community resources and which ones attract students, you can utilize that resource to bless and engage your community.
3. Incorporate music, games, and activities.
One of the best things you can do is think about what type of environment you want for this event and what type of environment will bring in your students. One big thing you can do is have music playing that is fun and upbeat. Music helps to create an atmosphere and helps to ensure that there aren’t moments of awkward silence.
Think through the games and activities you’d like to have to celebrate this moment. You could have organized games or it could just be a free time type of night where students get to choose between multiple activities. I would also encourage you to not forget the students who aren’t game or large activity types of people. It is so important that those students know they are welcomed and valued in these moments. This could be as simple as setting up tables away from loud activities and speakers–but still within the space that everything is happening–which have board games, fidgets, coloring books, and other fun activities.
4. Make sure to speak truth to and pray for your students.
One of the things we need to remember is summer isn’t always fun or easy for all of our students. In fact, summer can be really difficult for students. There may be tensions and difficulties at home, they may lose a large piece of their community, there are shifts to rhythms and changes in schedules, there are decisions to be made about their future, and so many other factors competing for their focus. This isn’t true for all of our students, but it is important to remember these things because as we focus on the spiritual piece.
Make sure to carve out time speak a word of Biblical encouragement to your students and to pray for them. This doesn’t need to be a 45-minute lesson; it can be short and sweet but intentional and relationally-focused. The more authentic and intentional this time is, the more students will feel seen and understood.
5. Honor your leaders.
In as much as this is an event and celebration for your students, for many ministries these celebrations only happen because of your volunteers. So I would encourage you to find a way to honor and celebrate them in front of your students. This has a twofold benefit: it shows your leaders how appreciative you are of them, and it shows your students how important your leaders are. You are creating a culture that values leaders and students and highlights the necessity of a discipleship-centered ministry. All of this takes place as you point to your leaders and acknowledge them, their sacrifices, and their hard work.