If you’ve read much, talked much or listened much about youth ministry lately, you are certainly aware of the growing concern over the vast number of students who walk away from church during, or shortly after, their high school years. I’ll let people way smarter than me try to figure out the myriad of factors contributing to that particular dilemma. Because I work with younger teens, an equally troubling trend is one that I think about at the close of every school year: The number of junior high students who don’t transition well into the high school ministry. Without a strategic transition plan, youth groups set themselves up to loose students before they even enter the high school program. And, in my opinion, a rough transition may contribute to students never feeling truly connected to the high school group which makes it easier to walk away later on (I have absolutely no hard data to back that up….it’s just a ‘gut feeling’. Like I said, people way smarter than me can try to figure it out!). So, with your 8th graders only a few weeks away from moving into high school, I’d like to offer a two-step strategy to help the transition go as smoothly as possible. My strategy: Reach down and Push up.
50% of the transition effort should rest on the shoulders of the High School department. The high school department needs to look for creative, strategic ways to “reach down” to the junior high program beginning at least a month or two before transition weekend. Some simple ways to reach down could include showing up at junior high events and services, the high school Pastor teaching a lesson or two, making sure the 8th graders get on the mailing list of the high school group a month before promotion so they get summer information, hosting a high school ministry orientation for students and their parents etc. In short, the high school ministry needs to make a concentrated effort to reach down to the 8th graders before they ever enter high school.
50% of the transition effort should rest on the shoulders of the junior high department. The junior high department needs to look for creative, strategic ways to “push up” 8th graders into the high school ministry beginning at least a month or two before transition weekend. Some simple ways the junior high ministry can push up could include speaking very highly of the high school ministry, looking for ways to eliminate some of the built in fears 8th graders have about high school, taking small groups of 8th graders at a time to “sneak in” to the high school service to check it out, promoting the high school summer events in the junior high group so 8th graders get excited about their move up, junior high leaders serving as counselors on some of the key high school summer events etc. In short, the junior high ministry needs to make a concentrated effort to push up the 8th graders before they ever enter high school.
I have no idea if a smoother transition from junior high to high school serves to keep students from walking away from church later on. But I do know it serves to keep students from walking away from church early on. And that seems to be worth the effort.
Kurt also has a new podcast episode on this topic where he goes into even further detail on this important topic – Check it out!: Episdoe 23: How to help students transition into the high school ministry