You can recognize the look. The look of fear that they are going to be devoured by the hulking seniors. The look of terror that they’ll be called upon to pray and their voice will pick JUST THAT TIME to change. The look of panic as they realize that the children’s ministry DID NOT PREPARE THEM FOR THIS! And then the look of their backs as they run out of the room. Ahh, promotion Sunday! What a glorious day.
You can make life easier for these incoming students – be they 6th or 7th graders just promoted from the children’s ministry or 9th graders aging out of middle school ministry. Its during these times of transition that many students fail to “Stick” and slowly fade away from the church. These young people were active in their previous groups, but were not integrated into the new group.
There is usually one big hurdle – FEAR. Fear of you, the older teens, making a fool of themselves, basically a fear of everything! You can fix that by taking away the reasons for those fears. So, first thing you should do is make sure that all upcoming students know who you are and are comfortable with you. Ideally, you should start in the year before they’re promoted, so that by the time they come to you you’re old friends. If you haven’t done that you should start, but for the bunch this year you should take a crash course in introductions. To overcome their fear of the older students, have a few of your leaders take some time to befriend the new students. It means a lot when a student leader comes over to a sixth grader and invites him to play Halo or for a girl to just come and talk for a bit. They don’t have to adopt the kid, but if your leaders make it a priority to include the new kids then the others will take their cue from them. Finally, it can be intimidating to walk into youth group for the first time and not know whats going on. A possible suggestion for this is to take your student leaders and host a “practice youth group” meeting. You don’t have to call it that, but thats what it would be. Its just a way for these incoming students to see what you do without having to look like a fool in front of the larger group. You walk through what you do, and why you do them, and your expectations (or rules). You might even consider including the parents of these kids for this, so that they will be able to see. Who knows, you might even find some new adult volunteers as well!
Speaking of parents, you need to make sure that you get to know the parents as well. Parents need to buy into your ministry and see the importance of it, since for the next 4+ years they will likely be the primary mode of transportation. Let these parents know about your ministry and all that you do. Make them WANT to bring their kids to youth group and the activities, not just feel like they have to. If done right, you will have willing advocates for the next 7 years. If done poorly, you could have barriers for ministry.
Transition is not easy, even for adults. It is possibly the worst for this age. They are going through physical, emotional, and social changes. It doesn’t get any easier in the church. They’re not kids anymore but “YOUTH” and have to deal with all that comes along with that. They are leaving a protective cocoon and entering something that to them seems wild, crazy, and intimidating. I believe the church loses a lot of kids in this transitional stage and many of them never join our ministry (and therefore risk losing them for eternity). The most important thing you can do for these students is to have a transitional plan that helps them overcome fear by getting to know you, your leaders, and how your ministry operates. Good luck. I’d love to hear how your church helps transition students from the children’s to youth ministry.