This picture says so much about middle school ministry.
Before you know it, it will be August. A new school year will be upon you, your ministry, and the families in your church… and you will have a crop of new 6th graders that will need to find a place in your student ministry.
Here are 10 tips to help the transition from Children’s ministry to Student ministry:
1. Start EARLY.
If you wait until the last week of July or worse, the beginning of August, to make plans on how to welcome your new batch of 6th graders, you’ve waited too late! It will be time to scramble to help them get acclimated to life in student ministry… a whole new world to them… and mom and dad.
2. Remember: You’re not just transitioning students, you’re also transitioning parents – it’s a family thing.
Mom and dad are probably struggling with this – their little one is growing up. They’ve heard the stories about the “outreach” kids in your group. The thought of their child mixing with high school students terrifies them… You have to remember its not just about getting a new middle schooler from point A to point B – its mom and dad as well!
3. A good relationship between the Children’s ministry and the Youth ministry is KEY.
I look at it like this: my student ministry begins with a FULL support of the children’s ministry. Chris, our children’s pastor and I get along. We work together, and most importantly, we work together on this transition. I recently spoke on this topic in a breakout session at a ministry conference – I couldn’t believe how many children’s pastors & student pastors were shocked when they found out that Chris and I got along! I heard story after story of separated departments that fought between themselves when it came to transition time… if that’s the case where you are at, do whatever it takes to get the relationship between ministries healthy.
4. Ministry transition shouldn’t be an “event” it should be a process.
In life we have a year’s worth of seasonal changes. Think of your first year with a new 6th grader as a series of seasons:
Fall – Things are changing. It is the closing of a chapter of their life – help them as they close out their children’s ministry years and turn over a “new leaf” so to speak.
Winter – the bleak period – get them through their adjustment time. This is a crucial time when they MUST feel accepted and build relationships.
Spring – watch them bloom as they get comfortable in the youth ministry. Confidence will grow and their personality will show.
Summer – chronicle their journey, and let them see how far they’ve come in a year. Pictures, videos, etc will be awesome for the student and their parents as well. 6th graders change so much in a year – help them take note of the growth in their own lives, and provide a cool keepsake for the family.
5. Prepare the parents.
Establish communication – connect with them early and be the one to make the first move. This is a big step for them, and the earlier you begin to connect with them and build trust, the better!
Be available to answer questions – have an “open door” for parents and upcoming students to explore the ministry ahead of time and meet with you in your office, etc…
A great way to build trust – Make sure your ministry systems and leaders are in place. Make sure that new parents can tell that your ministry has its act together.
6. Prepare the students
Capitalize on the summer between the 5th and 6th grade year. This is a great time to establish connection with your upcoming students, connect with youth leaders, offer blended events with current middle school students, organize events to help the class that is moving up get a jump start bonding with each other, and building overall excitement as they prepare to transition into student ministry.
7. Think “life moment” not “move up date.”
Make it a big deal. Make it memorable. Make it fun. Make it spiritual. Make it first class – go all out for them and make a lasting impression with your first impression!
Promote well in advance
Get parents involved, get the children’s ministry involved, get the youth ministry involved
Follow up afterwards
8. Go all out with the welcome experience
Roll out the red carpet – make it a night they won’t forget
Give the official tour of the student ministry
Get youth leaders and “big brothers & big sisters” involved
9. Find a healthy balance & be understanding
Not every kid is completely for a clean break – work with that. Some will be chomping at the bit to get you youth group, some will have a slower transition. Middle schoolers have a varied maturity level – I’ve found it best to not force a student into a situation they’re not ready for. Our children’s pastor and I work together on that one.
Have specific leaders that cater to the age group. Some leaders are middle school ministry all stars… some are not. Make sure you have leaders in place that can be loving and understanding.
Plan for age specific events to help the group gel even more
10. Prepare to journey with them
These are your future high schoolers! The more you pour into them, the healthier your ministry will be in the long run!
Create a system for your middle schoolers to journey with mentors – Establish leadership in their lives. Also, mentors help build the trust factor with parents.
Create a system for your middle schoolers to journey with peers – be intentional providing times for the group to gel. Peers help build the social factor that keeps them coming back.