The end of the school year is closing in and my first thought as a pre-teen leader is, “What’s going to happen to my 6th graders that move up to youth ministry? Will they continue to come to church and stay engaged and active? Will they come grudgingly, dragged by their parents? Will they drop out never to be seen again?”
As a preteen leader who passionately loves to keep 4th through 6th graders active and engaged in the Bible and church activities in fun and exciting ways, these questions always fill my head.
Have I made the Bible too much fun, so the kids don’t know how to transition to serious Bible teaching? This is a real concern at our church, as one parent actually told me that her child, that just moved up to youth ministry, didn’t enjoy youth Bible study, because our preteen ministry made learning too much fun and youth ministry was a big letdown. I wasn’t sure whether to take that as a compliment to my ministry or not.
The truth is many kids transitioning to youth ministry are at different maturity levels, so some do just fine moving up to a more serious format, but others, especially middle school boys, have trouble going from a very active hour of engaging activities and life applications to sitting still and just having discussions.
Also, relationships are vital between the leaders and students. I know every child’s name in my preteen ministry that walks through our doors. If they are new, I make sure to intentionally include them and make sure they are welcomed with open arms. If a student doesn’t feel a connection with the leaders, no matter what they do, it will be hard to keep them involved.
Just as important is teaching with different learning styles to make sure that all kids are being taught in a way that keeps them engaged or focused. There are 4 major learning styles and 8 different intelligences that kids can have. It is crucial that the teachers use as many learning styles as possible. This will make sure that every child learns in a way that allows them to enjoy the lessons being taught. If a teacher only hits on one or two learning styles or intelligences, they are only reaching half of the kids.
During church services, sermons can be very hard for these transitioning kids to sit through if they are used to heading out of the church before the sermon to attend a “children’s church” of some sort. Unfortunately, this is a trend that can be difficult for kids who are used to being engaged at all times.
One alternative that our church has used quite successfully is to have the youth group sit separately in their own section towards the front. This not only allows the youth to sit with their peers, but it also allows the congregation to easily see all of the youth.
The reality is, some kids are going to come and go regardless of our efforts, due to family dynamics and other situations out of our control. Having relationships with the students will give us the benefits of understanding our kids better, inside and outside of the church, and, in turn, we’ll be able to build lessons that will fit to their needs and keep them engaged. This will help us create the necessary building blocks needed to bring kids to Christ and keep them from straying.