Editor’s Note: This is how one church transitions their rising sixth and ninth graders into their youth ministry. Does this approach work for your ministry? How is your transition plan different? Share your thoughts below!
by Peter Carlson
Spring is in the air! It’s that time when students seem more interested in progressing to the next grade than they are in the idea of summer vacation. As youth workers, we want student transitions to be as smooth as possible.
There are many effective ways to transition new students into your youth group or from the children’s/middle school ministry into the high school ministry. Every church needs a different approach depending on its congregation size, demographic, and building limitations. I would love to share The Village Chapel Youth’s current transition method as a model for you to consider and readjust to fit your youth group’s needs.
Background of The Village Chapel’s Student Ministry
Our Children’s Ministry, for Kindergarten through sixth grade, meets on Sundays during all of the morning worship services. All grades meet for large group worship and teaching, then split by age for small group discussion and activities. Our youth group, for sixth through twelfth grade, meets on Sunday evenings. Middle school and high school are combined for large group teaching, then split by grade for small group discussion.
Sixth Grade: A year-long transition
At The Village Chapel, we encourage parents of sixth grade students to decide whether the children’s ministry is still best for their student or if their student is ready for the youth group. Some students attend both while some choose one or the other. Those who attend the youth group and the children’s ministry activities are encouraged to be leaders within the children’s ministry by helping out with the younger children.
Temporary Tweens: A 4- to 6-week transitional time
I love the idea of holding teaching that focuses on fifth through seventh grade students. Unfortunately, many churches are not large enough to create a ministry to focus on this age group. We have found that holding a special Sunday school class for this group, between Easter and summer, is a great way to introduce the fifth grade students to the sixth and seventh grade students. It also calms the springtime itch of, “I’m almost in sixth grade and I want to be in the youth group now!” We only hold the class during one of our morning services for four to six weeks. Each session starts with an icebreaker activity and a short lesson with discussion. Using purchased curriculum with video teaching for this class keeps the additional work minimal.
Summer Time Hangs: Making transition through the entire summer
At The Village Chapel, we keep Bible study going all summer long! However, we change things up by splitting our high school from our middle school and keep the atmosphere even more relaxed than usual.
The rising sixth grade students are welcome to join at this time. Those who are rising freshman can choose to stay with the middle school group over the summer or enter the high school group at any point before September. The recent graduates are welcome to stay in the youth group as well. It’s a good way for them to get ready to say good-bye before heading to college or joining our college-age home group.
As many of the youth are eager to get social time with peers in the summer, we avoid full lessons and have short devotions. This also lowers our leaders’ prep-time as the summer is already busy with camp, missions trips, and personal vacations. In addition to devotions, the middle school time is centered around games at the church. The high school students meet at a different local eatery, coffee shop, or park each week for social time and a student-led devotion.
Kick-Off Sunday: Welcome the new students and make them feel comfortable.
It’s pretty common to start the school year with a bang and welcome new students to your ministry. Although The Village Chapel has a number of ways we transition our students, we still have students who join us in the fall for the first time. We also combine our middle school and high school once again. This can be a little scary for the new sixth grade students.
Have your older students do something special for your younger students. Each year our favorite thing to do is have each of the high school students write a card to one of the new sixth graders saying, “[name], Welcome to TVC Youth! I’m excited to get to know you more this year. My favorite thing about TVC Youth is […] I know you are going to love this group!” They then hand-deliver the card to the student they wrote to.
Parent Communication: Transitioning is not just for students
Parents tend to be more nervous than students about entering the youth group. The way to ease this is with as much communication as possible. Hold a parents’ meeting before your main transition date. Invite new parents and new families to learn more about the youth ministry and give them a chance to meet the youth leaders and other parents. Be highly detailed and prepared for this meeting as it sets an impression of how well you will take care of their kids. If your meeting takes place at the start of the school year, remember that families are incredibly busy this time of year. If budget permits or you have some great cooks amongst your youth leaders, minister to parents with a free lunch. Even pizza with salad will go a long way. It will also give them incentive to come to your meeting.
Keep in Line With Your Entire Church
If you create unique transitional opportunities, the children’s ministry and other educational ministries may have difficulty if your programming does match up with theirs. Be in communication with the other leaders at your church and figure out the best way to make your transitions happen effectively.
Peter Carlson is the Director of Youth Ministries at The Village Chapel in the Hillsboro Village district of Nashville, Tenn. When Peter is not working with TVC Youth, he works as a photographer with his wife, Whitney. He also loves playing with his 13-month-old son Monroe, playing games with friends, watching movies, and going on vacations.