Don’t just welcome your fifth graders. Plug them in and bring their families along for the ride because youth ministry is a crazy, wonderful journey on the road to Kingdom work. I’ve outlined four tips in approaching transition in youth ministry from my experiences and these are applicable to churches big and small.
1. One-on-one meetings are worth it. It’s as simple as a phone call and that’s where it starts. Meet with the new middle school families and share your heart for their kids and Jesus. It takes a little extra time but it’s completely worth it.
I take this time to go over calendars, our programs and the why’s of what we do. It gives parents a good base of what to expect as a new middle school parent, and most importantly, how our church is going to partner with them to make Jesus the center of their home.
2. Spice up your parents meeting. If one-on-one introductions aren’t feasible for your ministry, have a big parents meeting … how boring does that sound? Let your fun side show to enable your parents to want to pencil you in on their schedules. I’ve had successful taco nights, myself – but get creative and even invite the whole family and other youth workers. This is a fun, new chapter in these families’ lives – celebrate it!
DO NOT just display a slide for your meeting on the pre-service big screen. Make a way for parents to RSVP to the event and have it set up to automatically email a response to everyone. Send reminders. In my experience, I have learned you must go to them.
3. Plan for that first day. Nobody wants to relive that first awkward day of fifth grade when you first walk in, you don’t know where to sit and everybody is looking at you. Shiver. We can prepare for that moment by preparing the environment. Ask your older students to be ready to welcome the new ones and walk around with them.
Have some games ready for everyone to play – maybe some 9 Square in the Air! And some up-front games that guarantee some laughs.
4. When it’s over, it’s not over. Following up with new families is just as important as reaching out to them. Get feedback on their child’s experience. Don’t take negative comments too close to heart but always look for truth nuggets that will help you improve your youth ministry. Giving families opportunities to be heard might set you up to recruit new adult leaders.
The transition from elementary to middle school is a tough one for kids and families, but we can help make it easier. I would argue it’s one of our greatest tools to reach families! If we do it well, we can help a family buy in to ministry and the overall vision of the local church.
Joe Smith is a veteran of youth ministry, having served as lead youth minister in multiple churches over the past 20 years. He’s also served as a senior minister and preaching minister of churches in Florida, and currently serves on the ministry staff at Shift Church in Gainesville, Florida. To contact Joe, send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.