Last week I looked into the eyes of some very apprehensive 11-year-olds. It was their last Sunday in “KidzTown.” Even though we made a big deal about “graduating them” up to youth group, still some pulled me aside and asked if they could have just “one more week” before they aged out of children’s ministry. I genuinely thought most would be ecstatic to be growing up and into youth group; I was wrong. The faces looking up at me were babies, and all they have every known is children’s ministry.
Heading into youth ministry means so much more than a “new adventure” for these kids. Instead it’s symbolic of change, growing up, and a corner turned. Sure some with older siblings are ready, but most are anxious. To tell a tween definitively, “You are not a kid anymore,” is not a happy moment for all. So how do we help with this from our end as youth pastors?
Partner With Children’s Minister:
Too often I have worked in environments where children’s ministry and youth ministry live independently of each other, except for staff meetings. It can be easy for the children’s ministry to hand off kids, or for the youth ministry to take them in, but in order for this to work well the first step is working together. Kids need to be celebrated both in growing out of children’s ministry and coming into youth ministry. Make sure the rising tweens have seen your face, know your name, and know details about your youth ministry.
Focus On Welcoming:
Create some systems that help students know they belong in youth ministry. Consider a “welcome home” night. Partner older students intentionally with your rising tweens (and new kids in general) where they talk through the details of your programming, what to expect, and why they love youth ministry. Go big on extravagant hospitality. Bring balloons, gifts, and make it a night where they feel like it IS a good thing to grow up and into your ministry. Kids need to know this is a new home where they belong.
Clearly Communicate with Parents:
A week out from the first official “hand off” have a parent meeting with Q & A about your ministry. This should be separate from the annual back-to-school parent meeting. OVER EXPLAIN EVERYTHING. For some parents this might be their fifth and last kid out the door, but for some this is their first baby to go to youth group. They want your vision, calendar, details on expectations, and most importantly to know how you will treat their child. The more you introduce now helps as the year goes on. It might only be one or two parents, but this will build an advocate for the future of your ministry.
Just because they survive the first week of youth group doesn’t mean they are excited to come back. Think of ways to get them settled into the ministry. Who can buddy up with them intentionally for a month or so? Who can make sure they are greeted when they arrive? Who will follow up and ensure they don’t have questions or fears? Make sure that your younger students don’t “fall away” because they just can’t figure out where they fit in.
For Next Year:
Maybe your church or ministry isn’t in a position to start a specific 5th/6th grade ministry or one focused on tweens. However, as you look at this year, be focused on ways you can ease the youngest students into your ministry. Can you host a luncheon where the current junior high students welcome the rising children’s ministry kids? Can you go to the children’s ministry a few times this year and specifically teach those who will be entering your ministry? Be proactive on helping kids feel excited to move into youth ministry.
I think we have to remember that in this super-charged, “grow up fast” world, kids are still holding their breath about what’s next. Let’s make sure they know it’s ok to be nervous, but maybe excitement is ok too!
Thanks for loving students,