Friday, May 22, 2009

When to Promote Students

Over the years this has been a topic of many time consuming conversations that really has little to do with building the Kingdom.  I understand that it is very important to do everything you can to make transitions smooth and easy, but don't let "secondary" issues take time away from our primary purpose, to reach the lost and equip the committed to continue growing in their relationship with Jesus Christ.  After saying that, I do believe it is important to establish a transition time that is best for your ministry.  I am going to bullet some ideas of when to consider transitioning and why. When I reference transitions, my focus is the children moving into the youth ministry, the Jr/middle school students moving to high school and the high school seniors moving to the college or adult ministry of the church. Please note: I am pro-fall transition but you need to determine what works best for your ministry area.

  • Transition when you are at your strongest.  Many student ministries "slow down" with weekly programs in the summer and spend time at camps, lakes, pool parties and fun summer activities.  While these are fun to include "new" incoming ninth grade students to, they can also be intimidating because they usually are off site and have a lower attendance than school year activities.
  • Summer camps (unless you run your own) will usually require incoming ninth grade students to attend the camp from the grade they just finished.  It's hard for an incoming ninth grade student to attend a pool party on Friday with a high school group and then head out to Jr High camp on Monday.
  • Think of your high school seniors.  Allow them to finish strong over the summer and enjoy activities with the students they have spent a great deal of time with.  Incoming students tend to be very immature and initially will annoy many of the high school students with their actions just wanting to fit in (ninth grade guys rule in this area).
  • Don't transition to "grow" your Jr/High school ministry.  This is one of the biggest myths in student ministry.  Many students "finishing" their time in a ministry area will often fade out near the "end" due to time commitment, job, friends, apathy, redundancy, and more.  A healthy student ministry is one with vision, purpose, good leaders, and is focused and centered on Jesus Christ.  Students who came to past programs (in a different ministry area) won't necessarily move to the next ministry area because "the church tells them too."
  • Fall vs. summer transition.  The summer is a time when many families travel, camp, take summer vacation, spend time with families and "take a break" from the routine and hectic pace of life.  Students continually say when invited to an event, "I don't know I'm going to see who's coming."  They want to know they will have a friend to connect with.  Students attending an event for the first time as an incoming student is likely to have a bad experience and a poor image of the ministry if they have no friends who attend (remember, summer is when many families are hit-and-miss at church related ministries).  Fall is a time when routines and patterns are established: school, band, sports, extra-curricular, weekend schedules, work, study, etc.  Provide a strong start in the fall and promote heavy over the summer and families will make plans to include your ministry in their busy schedule.
  • Streamline.  It is much easier on the families attending the church to have ONE transition date to remember.  Those of us in ministry have the day-to-day focus of what is happening in the life of the church; we know what's going on.  Believe it or not, many families attending our church have little time to "memorize" what the church calendar looks like.  One date allows families to focus on ONE date, making their life just a little easier.
  • Include non-staff parents.  This seems like a no-brainer, but I am surprised at how few churches actually do this.  When planning transitions, solicit that input and opinion of parents in your ministry.  Do this through phones calls, letters, email, or even a simple one-question survey: would your family prefer to transition students in June or September?  This is also a great way to help families feel that they are part of the process.

Every time you move and transition students, it's a process.  Some of the best-promoted and planned transitions are still bumpy.  Just because you plan doesn't mean it will proceed the way you want.  All change, even good, takes time.

Whenever you plan to transition, please try to take the following steps:

  1. Mail the information out to ALL families.
  2. Promote and communicate the transition date at least two months out.
  3. The week before the actual promotion have the leadership announce it from the front in every service.
  4. The week of promotion have addition volunteers in the halls and outside the building reminding them of the transition.  Have the volunteers trained in where each ministry area is.
  5. Put balloons out.  Not necessary, but it draws attention to the fact that something different is happening today.  (thanks Pastor Tammy)
  6. Have a leader in the doorway greeting new students and one in their meeting area connecting with them so no student feels alone.
  7. Donuts and/or goodies are always a great way to help students enjoy a transition.

Have fun and may God guide and bless you during your upcoming transition.

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