The transition from eighth to ninth grade is HUGE and I remember thinking at this time in my life that I needed to change in order to fit in. I changed my hair, how I dressed, the music I listened to – everything. I went to all the trouble for one reason and one reason alone: acceptance.
It’s still that way. If anything, it may be worse in today’s culture.
Don’t underestimate your students’ need for community. They will find it. How your ministry handles this transition can go a long way in influencing which community they choose. Here are four things you can start doing now to help that journey.
1. Start early. Don’t transition your students from one ministry to the next in a short time span. Plan some events that bring both middle school and high school groups together. Have a preview night for the incoming eighth graders and their families so they can see what’s next. Ideas like these can give your students time to see, plan and adjust.
2. Train influential adult leaders. Strong adult leaders are key to any good student ministry, and they play an even bigger role during transition times. Youth ministers need to be able to rely on their leaders and adult volunteers to reach out and pastor the new students coming in. Build your team, set the expectations, do your part in training and pastoral care, and then release them to love and care for your students.
3. Raise up the next generation. Routinely talk to the high schoolers about what it means to be a spiritual leader. Part of their role in the church as natural leaders to the younger ones is to speak into the lives of middle schoolers. Have them personally invite the new freshmen in and immediately they have someone to latch onto, ask questions and help with this transition. It will make all the difference in the world.
4. Don’t forget the parents. This transition time isn’t only about the incoming students. They come with parents. These are people who blinked after their kid’s preschool graduation, and now they’re incoming high school freshman. They’re not ready – I know, because I wasn’t ready when my daughter did this to me. A preview night will help parents. Make yourself available to welcome the parents and talk about the student ministry. Your role is to help ease as much of that tension as you can.
There are so many good ways to move your middle schoolers up to high school. I encourage you to get creative, grab your ministry team and brainstorm what would be awesome for your unique families.
Joe Smith is a veteran of youth ministry, having served as lead youth minister in multiple churches over the past 20 years. He’s also served as a senior minister and preaching minister of churches in Florida, and currently serves on the ministry staff at Shift Church in Gainesville, Florida. To contact Joe, send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.