By Andrew Davis
Years ago I served at a small church and I’ll never forget when Madi and Mckenzie joined that youth group. Their presence brought a season of excitement and refreshment to a group that, if I am being honest, was getting a little stale! The students had been together for a while. Trips and youth events were routine, and part of their everyday life. All that changed when Madi and Mckenzie came to youth group for the first time as new 6th graders.
Madi and Mckenzie absolutely loved everything we did. For everyone else, it was the usual…for these two girls, it was the most exciting part of their life in that moment. They loved attending youth group on Wednesday nights, and were even more excited when they attended their first Fall Retreat. They were so excited about the lock-ins and fun events that we did; they even invited their friends to attend too! I watched how Madi and Mckenzie’s excitement and enthusiasm for youth group brought in fresh energy to what we were doing, and it even revitalized the rest of our youth group’s attitude towards our student ministry program.
At Covington FUMC, we are intentional about how we welcome in our new 6th graders into the youth ministry because we realize this is a big step in the lives of the new middle schoolers. This is also a significant time in the lives of their parents as well, and we also try to be just as welcoming and inclusive to the new parents as we are to the new students. Here are three things we do to try to be welcoming and inviting to our new 6th graders.
We personally call the parents, and each new 6th grader gets a letter inviting them to Youth Group.
In the summer I have a designated week where I get a list from the children’s ministry of incoming 6th graders, and I also ask everyone I know if they know of any other students that may want to be on that list. Then, I personally call all the parents and tell them about our youth group. I make sure the parents and 6th graders know about the pizza party we will be doing in their honor. (We’ll share more about that later!)
I’ll be honest, it’s weird. As a 31 year old single male, I don’t like calling strangers and inviting their children to come to a pizza party with me. With that said, I have found that to the parents and youth who are looking to be plugged into a student ministry this a wonderful first step that means a lot to them.
For the students, I mail out a colorful and exciting invite to our 6th grade party and on the back I have a short letter inviting them to our student ministry. In this short letter I tell them how cool youth group is, and how much I think they’d enjoy it. I highlight a few of the things we do and what we’re about. Even though I know it’s very 1990s of me, I mail the letters out with an actual stamp and envelope. There is just something special about getting a letter in the mailbox with your name on it.
We have a “Welcome to Youth Group” party for the 6th graders
Typically in July, before all of our standard youth programming bigs with the start of the school year, we’ll take a Wednesday night and throw a “Welcome to Youth Group” party with the 6th graders and their parents as our honored guests. We usually make it a pizza party, and youth, volunteers, and other parents, are encouraged to come out and meet the newest members of our community.
As we’re eating, we’ll play 2 truths and a lie, and only have the new 6th graders fill out a notecard with their truths and lie. The rest of us will try to figure out what the lie is! This is a fun way to learn some facts about our new students.
Also, as we’re eating I have the new 6th graders help me pick out our next middle school fellowship activity. It’s important that they know that the church and youth group is better because they are part of it, and each one of them adds something unique that nobody else can replicate. So we ask them to pick out our next fun event. Later, after the outing, it’s always really cool to hear the 6th graders say “That event was my idea!” It shows they are already taking ownership of the ministry that our youth group is doing.
Afterwards, we take the new students to the gym and introduce them to our most fun youth group games. I typically have some of my older kids plan this out, and everyone is very intentional about including the new kids and making sure they have the best night ever.
We have a “6th Grade Orientation” for the Parents
When kids enter the 6th grade the schools have a middle school orientation for the parents, so we figured why can’t the church do this? You could do this on a seperate night from the Welcome to 6th grade Party, but at Covington FUMC, I do it on the same night. While many of my volunteers and students take the new kids to the gym to play games, I stay behind with a few of my volunteers to meet the parents.
First I tell the parents about myself. I want to earn their trust and help them get to know me a little bit before they entrust their teenagers to me and my program every Sunday and Wednesday evening, and at times for entire weeks or weekends. Next I tell them about our student ministry. I print off a form with all of our weekly program and yearly events, with a brief description of them. I get their information to add to my weekly text and email reminders. Finally, I give them a space to ask any questions they may have about youth group, or middle school in general. I have noticed this is a very important part of the meeting because often the parents will ask questions about middle school life in general. I have found if it’s the parent’s first kid in middle school, they are more nervous about this transition then the 6th grader is! Just giving them a safe place to voice their anxiety and hear from others can be a very refreshing time.
New students coming into your youth group is a wonderful opportunity to show church community and what your youth group is all about to an audience who is very excited and ready to be part of it. Also, it’s a chance to create a safe space to allow those new students (and their parents) to find their place in your church and let their gifts shine! Amidst the summer craziness, I hope you find time to enjoy and get excited about the new youth that God is putting in your path.
Andrew Davis has been involved in youth ministry for over twelve years, serving as a youth minister and as a volunteer. He graduated in May of 2019 from Memphis Theological Seminary, through the CYMT graduate residency program.
By Andrew Davis