Moving into the student ministry can be daunting, regardless of age…why do you think it’s so difficult to find volunteers?! Even the grown-ups get scared!
An intentional process can make or break the retention rate of incoming junior high kids. Consider adding a few programming points for those kids over the summer.
First: Promote at the end of the summer. It gives you all summer to ease kids forward (and none of the headache that comes from seniors complaining about the newbies, what to do with new kids and youth camp, and all the confusion from ‘entry orientation’ for the youth ministry coming at the end of the school year.)
Next: Plan some ‘incoming 7th graders only’ events so you have a chance to learn names, faces, and personalities before they become immersed in the sea of student ministry.
Also: Partner with the children’s minister to have a stand-alone VBS group of just those incoming kids (6th or 7th graders) and utilize your current students to run it. Make it fun, edgy, and a step above what they’re used to in traditional Vacation Bible School. Be sure to cultivate relationships between current students and incoming ones – and the bonus is that your current students have a golden opportunity to lead!
And another: Consider a week solely devoted to promotion just before it happens. In our context, it’s 7-Up Week. We do a week of events and activities utilizing strategic upper-classmen to develop friendships and lead out in ‘Everything You Need to Know to Be a Teenager’ studies. We do an evening for moms and dads, as well, using a ‘panel discussion’ format of current students, youth parents, and adult volunteers to do Q&A. We have all paperwork available, introduce small group leaders, etc. We conclude with an all-youth-ministry pool party/BBQ. The following Sunday, new 7th graders join us for the first time as junior high students (usually the week before school begins.)
Finally: In the first months following promotion, stay in contact with parents regularly. Get feedback and ‘insider’ information on how the transition is going. Partner up newbies with veteran students for encouragement and ‘hand holding’ those first few months. Stay in close contact with small group leaders for new 7th graders. And send random encouragement to those kids via text, social media, a personal visit at school or home….smoke signals if you have to!
An intentional process of promotion makes the transition from kids ministry to student ministry more exciting than trepidatious.