Thanks for joining me as we talk about helping kids transition successfully from children’s to youth ministry! Below you’ll find the full session video, download options for the video + audio, a downloadable notes page to follow along in the session, written notes of the session’s highlights, and links to free downloads and resources! Have more questions? Email me at email@example.com or set up your complimentary 30-minute coaching call here.
Making the jump from children’s ministry to youth ministry can be hard for everyone involved – the preteens, the parents, and you as a leader! Kids often feel insecure, parents have a lot of questions, and you’re just trying to make sure this transitional age group stays engaged. Here are 3 ways to ensure all your bases are covered as you help preteens transition successfully to youth ministry.
Click each sentence below to find the ideas and solutions we discussed for each one in today’s session!
Work together with your counterpart.
The transition from children’s ministry to youth ministry should be a conversation between the leaders of those two ministries, not just a hand-off.
What elements of youth ministry can you pull into kids ministry? Maybe for your preteens, you create a “hybrid” ministry that pulls in elements of both the children’s and youth ministry. This can be as elaborate as a separately-named-and-run ministry or as simple as adjusting small group time. Learn how the small group format works in the youth ministry, and start including similar questions with the preteens. For example, our youth ministry starts off small group time with a couple of “would you rather” questions. Adding a few “would you rather” questions to the preteen’s small group discussion helps give them a little taste of youth ministry. Or maybe your walk-in time looks different and is more flexible for your preteens. Maybe they don’t have to wear name tags. Maybe they get to participate in worship in the main service before coming back to their class for their lesson/small group time. Maybe you even choose a separate curriculum for the preteens that more closely mirrors the format and setup of the youth group. Whether big or small, doing something for your preteens to change up the normal routine of children’s ministry helps prepare them for the transition AND makes them feel special. It lets them know you recognize that they are growing up and possibly “growing out” of the children’s ministry (which is what we want, by the way!).
Cross-Attend Events. What events can you invite the youth pastor to? What youth events can you attend/volunteer with? This not only gives you both the chance to see how the other ministry runs, but it allows you to connect/continue connecting with kids. If preteens can see and interact with the youth pastor or other youth volunteers, it gives them the chance to see a familiar face when they walk into youth group for the first time. At our church, the youth pastor plays a large role in VBS with the 5th grade crews, giving him a whole week of getting to know the preteens before they move up into the youth group.
Determine important milestones. Work together with the youth pastor to determine any spirutal and developmental milestones you’d both like kids to meet or accomplish by the time they graduate from children’s to youth ministry. Are there certain Bible skills you want them to have? Are there certain Bible stories they should know? What spiritual practices do you want them to be familiar with? Are they able to order their own food at a restaurant? Can they spend the night away from home? Of course, none of these things prevent a student from moving up, but knowing some of the hopes or expectations for preteens can help you as the children’s ministry leader better prepare them for the skills they’ll use in youth group.
Celebrate the transition. How can the children’s and youth pastor work together to make the transition something exciting and something for the preteens to look forward to? I’ve seen some churches who host a special “youth day” in the children’s area or a “5th grade graduation” that honors the preteens and welcomes them into the youth group. Make this transition a big deal with some lead-up to the actual event. That way, preteens get excited about the move up. Consider the timing of the transition too. We transition the 5th graders into the youth group at the beginning of the summer, even though every other class doesn’t move up until Promotion Sunday at the end of the summer. This way, the 5th graders are able to participate in all of the relationally-focused youth summer events that happen. Sometimes it’s easier for preteens to build relationships and get comfortable with the youth group during a Messy Game Night rather than a typical youth group night.
Help each other out with the logistics and personalities. Consider meeting together as a children’s ministry leader/youth ministry leader team before the transition happens. Share a list of names + parent contact info for all of the students moving up. Share any fun tidbits or personality traits you know about the students that might be helpful. Are there any severe allergies, behavior quirks, or learning disabilities the youth pastor should be aware of? Sharing “insider knowledge” can help set up the youth pastor for success as he/she welcomes the new preteens to the youth ministry.
Pray for the preteens and families. Spend time praying over the students who will be transitioning. Commit to praying for the preteens (either alone or with your ministry counterpart) at least once a week during the month of the transition.
Cultivate intentional connections among preteens.
How can you help the preteens connect with each other? Kids who enter the youth group with established friendships are more likely to stick around to establish more.
Remember where they are developmentally. Preteens are beginning to form their own philosophy of life and faith and how they themselves fit into their budding worldview. Their faith becomes their own as they begin to question everything, and they can developmentally start seeing the perspective of others. Acceptance and fitting into a community of their peers increases in importance dramatically at this age. Knowing their core desire for community can help you create that place of belonging for preteens, which will help them transition more easily into a whole new group of peers.
Create memories together. During the preteen’s last year with you in children’s ministry, focus on special events, conversations, and opportunities that allow preteens to connect with each other and create shared memories. Whether it’s an overnight camp, a VBS, or even just special Preteen Game Nights throughout the year, offer times when a main goal is for preteens to be in fellowship with other. When a group of preteens have shared memories from a trip, a special event, or even a conversation, it helps them create bonds that give them the feeling of belonging they desire.
Be OK with times of play. As children’s ministry leaders, we often work hard to ensure that every element of our time with kids has a spiritual purpose or a tie-in to the lesson. And that’s a good thing! But as preteens age out of our ministry, we have to be OK with recognizing that sometimes playtime is just as important as learning time for preteens who are building friendships. Not everything we do with preteens needs to have a deeply spiritual focus. And when you help preteens connect with each other on a relational/fun level, the deeper spiritual conversations happen more easily.
Show preteens their next step. Better yet – give them a place to serve! Give preteens leadership roles within the children’s ministry and let them look forward to what leadership roles they can have as they move into the youth group. Many preteens love serving with the preschool class, or there are lots of other opportunities for them to serve on a Sunday morning in the children’s ministry (leading worship, handing things out, running slides, helping with set up or clean up, etc.). Having leadership roles while they’re still in the children’s ministry gives them ownership and buy-in at a time when they’re checking out. If your church doesn’t have a youth ministry for them to graduate into, then this step is vitally important. Show preteens what their next step is and how they fit into the church body.
Consider the timing of the transition. You want the preteens to move up during a season that is exciting, high-energy, and has lots of fun things planned on the calendar. I recommend moving them into the youth group at the beginning of the summer so they can start building relationships with the youth group at summer events, which are often more relaxed/focused on relationship-building than a typical youth group night.
Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV) says: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
This verse isn’t talking about being rooted and established in God’s love, but in our love for one another. By helping preteens build those friendships, create memories, and find their place of belonging BEFORE they graduate to youth group, you are helping them become rooted and established in love so that they can continue growing with a community of faith.
Encourage parents (this transition is hard for them too!)
As you well know, children’s ministry is not just about the kids – it’s about the parents too! How can you help parents make this transition from children’s to youth ministry?
Overcommunicate. Tell parents everything you can about the transition. When it will happen. What it will look like. How you’re celebrating their preteen. Work with your youth ministry leader to communicate any details about what parents and preteens can expect from their first youth group night or youth event. Post on social media. Send flyers home with the preteens. Have slides running on a Sunday morning. Put it in your bulletin/newsletter. At the very least, send an email. Maybe you even send out a “joint” email from both you and the youth ministry leader that allows the youth leader to introduce themselves, share details, and welcome the families to the youth ministry. If you don’t want to send a joint email, at least send a simple one “Hey parents! We are so excited for your 5th grader to be joining the youth group. Here’s the youth worker’s contact info and here’s the first youth event. Be on the lookout for an email from the youth pastor with more details!”.
Make it a family milestone. Milestones and celebrations are a big part of a family’s life. First steps, going to kindergarten, receiving a Bible, and starting middle school are all moments that parents remember and celebrate. How can you celebrate with them? This may look like a special 5th-grade graduation event, or even something as simple as a 5th-grade graduation gift.
Be prepared for questions, and start shepherding parents to the youth leader. Parents will have a lot of questions as they move up into the children’s ministry. And since you’re a leader they’ve likely known for years, they may naturally turn to you to answer those questions. Do what you can to answer questions parents may have, but also set up your coworker for success – defer to him or her whenever possible to help start training parents to reach out to them instead of you. And if you’re getting the same question from parents over and over, let your youth leader know.
Emphasize the importance of this season in their kids’ lives. Encourage parents to send their preteen to everything for the first couple of months, even when the preteen expresses doubts. Preteens may feel nervous or anxious about going, but the first few months are critical to build momentum and relationships as preteens move up. Ask parents to encourage their preteen to give it a try for at least a solid month before backing out and giving up. The transition can feel awkward and uncomfortable because it’s new – that’s OK. It’s part of the process of transition and change. But ask parents to help push their preteens through the first months of awkwardness until they get settled and find their place.
Ultimately, encourage the parents as they celebrate this bittersweet milestone. It’s often just as difficult for parents to let go as it can be for kids to step into the youth group. Remind parents you and the youth leader are on their team and that they’re doing a great job leading and loving their hormonal preteen.