Wow! Sorry about the delay. As most youth ministers experience, the summer can be busy, and unexpected things can sometimes delay the best intentions. This month we are focusing on transitions. We start off with the question……..
“How do you transition kids to the youth ministry?”
Gregory Harrell has served as minister to youth at Blacksburg Baptist in Blacksburg, VA, since 2009. Despite being directly across the street from Virginia Tech he still believes Maroon and Orange should never be worn together.
Pretty early on in my youth ministry I discovered that the way we transition students from the children’s ministry into our youth ministry is extremely important.
It all happened on our first Wednesday Night Bible Study. I remember seeing one of our new usually outgoing youth and their parents pull into the parking lot, them sitting there for a few minutes, and by the time I broke away from the conversation I was having they were gone. This new youth was too scared to get out of the car and come inside. I was perplexed over his fear as he had participated in our transition Sunday when ceremoniously walk our new youth from their 5th grade class into our youth building then celebrate their arrival with the whole youth group and our Fall-kick-off party. If this 6th grade boy who is not afraid of anything, found it too scary to walk into our youth house I needed to discover what was keeping him from coming inside. After talking with him I found it was the fear of the unknown: He wasn’t sure who was inside and how they would accept him.
Since this experience I have created a 6th grade retreat that I do with all our rising 6th graders the weekend we transition them into the youth group. The retreat is only 24 hours, but it has served as a great way to welcome our new students, affirm their gifts, and help them make some connections with older youth who they know will welcome them. The basics of the retreat are:
- I enlist 2-3 high school youth as my leaders and chaperones. I also take one of their small group leaders for the year with us. The high schoolers participate alongside them throughout the retreat and are charged to look out for them over the first 3 months they are in the youth group. The small group leader is able to make a valuable first connection before our first bible study night.
- We prepare food together. For many of our 6th graders this is the first time they have every cooked and so it is an identity building activity. We have made pizza, salads, and cookies before.
- We do some basic team building activities built around trust. We discuss our fears, how we overcome them, and why each of us is needed in the activity. I then connect this to our devotional for the retreat.
- We have fun by playing games like nerf battles, capture the flag, and hide and seek. Just having fun builds trust, acceptance, and joy.
After the retreat I assign the high school students to follow up with the 6th graders and to invite them to join us for some of our upcoming activities. The retreat is the core of my transition program for our 6th grade students, but we continue to connect and celebrate them over the first few months. I look for the students who have not transitioned into the program and follow up with them. Since starting the retreat, I have had a much higher involvement level from our new students. One other thing that I do is I also lead two nights of the 5th graders during VBS as a small orientation of youth ministry and to establish relationships before we start the new school year.
I would love to hear from you what are some things you do and how I might be able to integrate them into my own ministry as I think this is one of the most important things we do.
Eric Hasha is the Associate Pastor for Students and Young Adults at University Avenue Baptist Church in Honolulu, HI. No, that is not a typo. He really is in Hawaii. No, it is not paradise as everyone says, but it is a pretty cool place to live. Anyway, he is a graduate of Samford University and the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Eric is married to Cristy and the father of Abigail (4 years) and Everett (16 months). And Greg Harrell is one of my best friends.
Summer is under way and the youth ministry schedule is jam-packed with ministry opportunities. Youth groups have been involved in camp, mission trips, and helping with the church’s VBS. Ministry life is so full of fun and excitement that the upcoming school year schedule can easily be overlooked. For this reason, in my ministry, one of the first events we do at the beginning of the summer is introduce the incoming youth members…the 7th graders.
Transitions into the youth ministry are just one of many rites of passage that young adolescents go through. How churches and youth groups engage in these rites of passage will ultimately assist in the adolescent’s identity formation.
A few years ago I was trying to figure out how to best promote our new 7th graders into the youth group. I’m not sure where I got this idea, maybe from Pinterest or another youth ministry blog, but somewhere along the way I found the idea of creating a time capsule.
So now, each year as the school year is ending I contact each of our upcoming 7th graders indicating my excitement for their promotion into the youth group. I send them a questionnaire that asks them to list all of their favorite things including food, scripture, drink, thing to do on the weekend, song, hobby, etc. There are several questions they answer as well about what excites them and makes them anxious about joining the youth group. In addition to the form, I ask the youth to bring photographs of themselves, their family, friends, or special occasions. Finally, I ask both the parents and the student to write a sealed letter that won’t be read until the student graduates from the youth group. Since all of these items will be placed in a time capsule they are also invited to include any small mementos they find to be important.
On the day of the promotion, the youth group surrounds the incoming 7th graders and we listen intently to each person sharing their interests, anxieties, and personal mementos. After each person has shared, they place their belongings into the time capsule and it is sealed up for the day when they graduate from high school. Everyone, including the parents surround the new youth members and we lay hands on them and offer up our prayers welcoming them into our fold.
In my experience, I find that this time of transition greatly affects a student’s growth and comfort with the group. For one, it shows our youth that they are loved by their church, their youth group, and their God. Secondly, we are setting the stage for what will be a six year journey together- not only for the youth, but also for the parents. Finally, whatever anxiety incoming youth members might feel can be approached with prayer and understanding from others in the group.
There are so many ways to help transition new youth into the youth group. I look forward to hearing how other youth ministers do it in their group.