Bridging the Gap Between Children’s and Youth Ministry
A few months ago I sat down with the youth pastor of my local church to discuss the “exodus” we see each year. You know, when children move from children’s ministry to youth ministry and then right out the back door. We looked at the problem, discussed some possible reasons, and examined what we could do about it. God opened our eyes to see from His point of view instead of ours.
Whether physically they stop attending or they check out mentally, every year we see a few kids fail to make the transition to youth ministry. As a children’s pastor I feel a deep loss when a child who was in my care for as many as 12 years now slips through the cracks. The youth pastor mourns the fact that these lost youth will not fill empty ministry positions of musician, drama team member, personal evangelist, servant, and more. And what about the life changes that took place, how God transformed them into a new creation? Will the discipleship and equipping that we have done be lost? As we talked we became even more committed to bridging the gap between children’s and youth ministry.
Why Does This Happen?
It is easy to place the blame on the youth ministry, “If they would have …” or “why don’t they …”; but as we began digging into the problem we noticed major changes that were taking place in the lives of these kids, changes they were not prepared for. They have a new pastor, new style of worship, new teaching methods, all in the course of one week. This is not the youth pastor’s fault. Youth ministry should be different. While some embrace this new environment others are left feeling disconnected.
How can this dilemma be solved? How can we bridge the gap between children’s and youth ministry? It begins by becoming one body, working together under the vision God has given the senior pastor. Meet together with your senior pastor to confirm that all of you are “on the same page” when it comes to ministry vision.
Once you are all on the same page, become intentional about working together. Remember the whole “one body” thing. Invite the youth pastor and senior pastor to participate in children’s ministry programs and special events. They can serve (pass out hot dogs, blow up balloons, etc.), lead a small group, organize an activity, or be the guest speaker. As kids become more familiar with other leaders in the church, they will begin to develop a sense of being connected and belonging. Work as a team to plan and implement family ministry strategies and events. Not only will kids feel more connected but both the youth and children’s ministers will have the opportunity to build positive relationships with moms and dads. Finally, expose children to what is going on in other ministries and provide opportunities for them to serve in a variety of ministries.
As the children’s pastor there are some specific steps you can take to make your children remain connected after leaving children’s ministry.
• Set a date each year for a transition service. Honor the children who are leaving children’s ministry and moving into youth ministry. Present them to the congregation and to the youth minister. Conclude the service with an activity that includes youth and the transitioning children.
• Begin preparing for that transition day at least three months prior.
• Take your transitioning children to a youth ministry event. Introduce them to the youth ministry leaders then let the youth leaders introduce them to some of the youth.
• Plan an outing just for children who will be transitioning. Invite your youth ministry team to participate.
• Ask a teen who transitioned the year prior to talk with those who will be moving up about what he/she has enjoyed about the youth group and how he/she was able to get connected.
As the youth pastor you can help children make the transition by–
• Partnering each transitioning child with a teen who is actively involved in the ministry. The partnership can help the child feel he has a friend in youth ministry who will help him become involved and build relationships.
• Treating each transitioning child as a visitor. Get to know each child’s name. Talk with him about how the ministry functions and who the leaders are. Follow up often to see how he is doing and how you can help him connect.
Because children experience huge changes when they step from childhood to adolescence, they need the support of both the children’s and youth ministries. Let’s unite to intentionally and effectively lead kids through this transition.
Article written by Ryan Green, Children’s Pastor
Summerville Family Worship Center