But we also need to look at the transition from elementary into student ministry.
Do this to see the need more clearly. Work with the student ministry at your church to track how many kids who graduated from your elementary ministry are now plugged into student ministry. I can pretty much guarantee you that there will be a percentage missing because they slipped through the cracks during or right after the transition.
Let's talk about how we can improve this critical time of transition, so kids make the jump into student ministry successfully.
Start the transition early. The transition should be a carefully planned process. Sit down and map it out. Here's an example of a planned transition.
3 months out - have people from student ministry hang out in the pre-teen area at church and then introduce themselves to the group and make the announcements during the service / class.
2 months out - have people from student ministry hang out in the pre-teen area at church and then share the lesson that day.
4 weeks out - have people from the student ministry hang out in the pre-teen area at church and then share the lesson that day.
3 weeks out - have people from the student ministry hang out in the pre-teen area at church and then share the lesson that day.
2 weeks out - have the pre-teens go and observe the student ministry during a service or event.
1 week out - host an elementary graduation celebration for pre-teens and their parents. See more about this below.
Transition week - host an open house for pre-teens and their parents in the student ministry area.
1-2 weeks after the transition - student ministry host an event for pre-teens who have just entered student ministry.
Start building the relational connection early. Pre-teens are already insecure. Add to that transitioning into a new area and you've got the recipe for a royal freak out. Pre-teens are wondering if they will fit in. Will anyone know them? Will they make friends? Will they be accepted?
Pre-teens need to transition into an environment that may be new, but is full of familiar faces. Student ministry leaders are the key to this. They can do this by spending significant time with pre-teens before the transition takes place.
Ask your children's ministry volunteers to be involved in the transition. Your children's ministry volunteers have a relational connection with the pre-teens. Cast vision to them for helping pre-teens they have invested in make the transition into middle school successfully.
Some volunteers should even consider moving up with the pre-teens into student ministry. An example would be a small group leader who moves up with the kids in his group and becomes their small group leader in middle school.
Get student ministry teenage leaders involved. This is a great opportunity to see teenagers serve and reach back to influence the pre-teens who are following them. An upcoming 6th grade girl looks up to and admires an upcoming senior in high school. That's who she wants to be.
Challenge teens to leverage their influence and use it to help pre-teens transition well into student ministry. Cast vision with them to be used by God to make a difference in the lives of those coming behind them.
Get many of your key students involved in the process we outlined in the first point. It will make a big, big difference.
Get parents involved. Pre-teens aren't the only ones nervous about the middle school transition. Their parents are as well. Especially if this is their first child who is making the jump into middle school.
This transition is one of the key times when parents are wide-open to your insight, encouragement and help. One of the best things you can do to help pre-teens make the transition into middle school is to help their parents make the transition as well.
You can do this by hosting a class / celebration for them to attend with their child. At this event, you can cover important subjects like...
How to successfully parent a teenager.
What to expect in student ministry.
How to lead your child spiritually during the teenager years.
You can make an event like this really, really effective by asking student ministry to host it with you. Student ministry leaders can be involved in helping teaching the class, greeting parents as they arrive, answering questions, giving an overview of the vision of student ministry, etc.
I have created a special class / event for this called "Elementary Graduation Celebration." I have personally seen hundreds of pre-teens go through this with their parents and successfully make the transition into middle school.
Equip kids and parents for their middle school years. As mentioned above, pre-teens and parents are entering new territory in their relationship. Many parents try to parent their teenager just like they parented them when they were 9-years-old. They simply just don't know.
That's why it's critical for you to equip pre-teens and their parents for the middle school years. The elementary gradaution celebration class is full of great teaching about....
Pre-teens - how to not just survive the middle school years, but thrive.
Parents - clear parenting strategies for the middle school years.
Celebrate the transition and make it memorable. As part of the elementary graduation celebration, parents have the opportunity to write out and speak a blessing over their child. It's a memorable moment and lots of tears of joy and love are shed.
You can also make the transition celebration memorable for families by taking pictures and having a small gift for each pre-teen who is graduating. One of my favorites to give is a necklace that has a dog tag. The dog tag has the children's ministry logo on one side and the student ministry logo on the other side. It's a symbol of the two blending to become one.
Please...please...please remember this. The front lines of the battle for the next generation is no longer in high school, but in the transition from elementary to middle school. Let's be there for pre-teens and help them to continue following Jesus for the rest of their life.