Most of us who are beyond our high school days can remember what it feels like. It’s the first day at your new high school. It’s a new building, new teachers, new routines, and new social circles that always seem to add anxiety to an already stressful situation.
On some level, it can be the same for children who are moving up from children’s ministry into teen ministry. It’s a new environment, new youth leaders, and new relationships to be established. As a children’s ministry worker for the past 20 years, I’ve seen hundreds of kids move on from our ranks and transition to teen ministry. Some are naturals, and they fit right in. Meanwhile, some are nervous and require a bit of extra attention to make them feel welcome.
I’ve worked together with my church’s teen ministry leaders for many years and have established a system that makes children feel welcome as they move to teen ministry. Here are some tips that will help you as you try to do the same.
1. Involve Students Early
Months before children are scheduled to move into teen ministry, leaders should already be working to make the process as smooth as possible. What does this involve? Well, that depends on your ministry; but generally, this involves communicating with children about what is coming well in advance.
The youth ministries at my church take the summer off, so our work to welcome new students begins in the spring looking ahead to the following fall. Children who will be “graduating” from our children’s ministry are invited to visit our teen ministry on the final night of the year, which involves dinner, games, and casual interaction with leaders in a sort of “getting-to-know-you” capacity. It’s an invaluable opportunity for the children to dip their toes in the water and get to know everyone in the teen ministry.
Additional opportunities are presented in the summertime. Occasionally, our church hosts a teen Vacation Bible School program, which is run by the teen leaders. Every night for five nights, leaders are interacting with incoming students, establishing relationships, and having fun, all while presenting the gospel. Never underestimate the power of letting a student pour a bucket of water on your head! Having wet clothes for a night is a worthy sacrifice if it means your new students are more comfortable around your ministry.
2. Include Parents in the Process
We cannot repeat this enough: communication with parents is crucial.
Invite incoming kids and their parents to an orientation night, where they (parents and students) can ask questions of the leaders, get to know people, and observe the group. Explain where you stand doctrinally. Review any guidelines you expect the students to follow so there are no surprises. This allows families to get on the same page as your leaders so that, when that first night arrives, they are already comfortable and know what to expect. If parents are comfortable, chances are their kids will be comfortable too.
3. Identify Students Who Need Help Adjusting
The truth is, every ministry is different. That’s because every leader and every student is different. Different students have different emotional and social needs. This is a reality of youth ministry that requires special attention. Because of this, leaders should be constantly identifying students who need extra help settling in.
Now, this is not to say that other students should be ignored. By no means! I only mean that leaders should be intentional to make sure students are comfortable to share their lives and enjoy fellowship with their fellow teens. By doing this, not only are you showing students and parents that you care about them, but you are creating a bond that will hopefully last long after they leave teen ministry and grow into adulthood.
I left teen ministry as a student more than 20 years ago, and even to this day, I am close with my teen leaders who ministered to me. They are an important part of my life and have modeled to me what it means to be a follower of Christ.
We pray that, as new students come into your care, you will also create these kinds of relationships that last a lifetime – all for the glory of God!
Adam Minor is the chief curriculum editor for Word of Life Youth Ministries. He has more than 20 years of experience as an Olympians leader at his home church in northeastern Connecticut, where he and his wife, Sarah, are raising two young children, Aaron and Chloe.