Cheryl has served on the Vineyard’s National Kids Task Force and has over 23 years of experience in children’s ministry. Redpoint invited her to write about what youth workers can be doing to prepare younger kids for the transition to youth group!
Most of us can recall several moments in our childhood where the anticipation of getting older and getting to ‘do that’ – or getting to ‘go there’ was all we longed for and talked about with our friends. These milestone moments were often met with either “that was great…” or “that was it?…that’s what I’ve been waiting my whole life for?” Now let’s face it when you’re 12—the waiting does seem like forever!
For me one of those milestone moments of anticipation was moving up into the ‘portable building’ that housed the expanding upper grades of our Sunday school classes. Rumor had it this was the land of unbelievable snacks AND… they gave away jewelry every week too! I was going to be in Sunday school heaven!
My joyful bliss of ‘moving up with the big kids’ was extinguished and fear overtook me as I entered the building that first week. We were shuttled down the hallway into a classroom past a sculpture of this poor dude all beat up that I thought was an example of what they did to parents who didn’t take their kids to Sunday school. No games, no fun, no snacks, no real knowledge being absorbed by my little brain—I had no thought of ever going back again! And I didn’t!
I look back on that experience and think – ‘If I only knew…’ If I only knew what REALLY to expect. If my parents only knew what really went on. If someone would have told me that that poor dude wasn’t a parent—but Jesus! For me, in the past 20 years of ministry, I have become determined to ‘Make sure that they KNOW’! Here are some keys that have helped us transition our Up & Comers (UC’s) as they ‘Aged Up’ into Jr/Sr High groups.
- Connect with their Parents/Guardians – Host a ‘Get in the Know’ gathering where you introduce yourself, and the staff of folks who will be interacting with their child. Have a time of presenting what your meetings, gatherings, events, missions and other cool stuff you’ve got planned will look like for the coming year. Let them know how you will be communicating with them: e-mail, Facebook, hard copy, Phone? How would they like to be contacted? This should include all schedules, events etc. Let them know the level of involvement you’d like from them.
- Connect UC’s with the Group – It is a great idea to host a few events where the UC’s and the present youth can get to know each other in an informal fun setting before the season starts. Youth leaders can do this in smaller groups also by having what I call ‘Task Parties’. Invite some older youth along with some UC’s to come along side and help you complete a ‘Task’ at the church or outreach center. Youth love to be invited in ‘outside of Sundays’ to do something alongside their leaders and it’s a great way to form relationships as kids share a common event.
- Connect with your UC’s – Know their names and one fact about them. This may sound silly—but it speaks volumes to an UC. Keep an eye on how the UC is connecting with others in the group. Assign a peer leader. No youth should feel isolated or that no one cares they are there. Make sure you gather important info and dates like birthdays and maybe some ‘milestone’ moments for them.
- What is your Availability – Let your students know how you’re going to be available to them and ways they can do that. Set up designated media accounts that only your students can access you by. Sometimes Aunt Suzie’s posts on your FB page of how her vacation is going aren’t always teen appropriate!
- What’s ahead –You’ve met with the parents /guardians to let them know what’ll be coming up now it’s time to get the students in the know. Meet with the students themselves and let them know what you’ve got planned for the coming year. Go over what they can expect when they attend…
- Weekly group meetings
- Group Events
- Other cool events you’ve got slated for the year!
- Connection with Leaders Past and Present – Make sure there is input and connection from leaders on both sides as UC’s transition into the group. Past leaders should be checking ‘in’ and current leaders should be checking ‘out’ how they’re doing. Just because a child moves from one group to the next doesn’t mean they lose relationship with former leaders– work on it from both sides. Continued input in their lives from leaders past and present—and AC’s seeing that their next leaders have the same vision to make sure they are VALUED, LOVED and APPRECIATED—will ensure continued growth and involvement in becoming closer to Christ.