How to Transition Students Effectively

Youth Specialties
March 10th, 2015

We’re just two months away from the end of the school year, where students enter and leave youth ministry.  If you haven’t started thinking about the transitions your students are about to make, it may not be too late to develop something meaningful to celebrate them.

There are three major transitions that happen in youth ministry–entrance into junior high, entrance into high school, and entrance into “big church.”  Here are those stages, the tensions they pose, the importance in the tension, and some applications that you can apply to your context. Remember that you must be willing to test things out…and fail. With every transition, we learn more about our teens, take notes, and make adjustments for the next year.

Of course, this list is not comprehensive, so we’d love for you to post in the comments some of the solutions your church has come up with!

Transitioning From Children’s Into Youth Ministry

The tension:  Middle school is the second most transformative time for a person developmentally, second to toddlerhood.  For the first time, kids have the ability to make decisions for themselves, including whether they want to go to church or not (and middle schoolers don’t want to do anything but sleep and eat).

The importance:  Middle schoolers go through so many transitions during this time period, whether it’s at school or in the home.  With so many transitions, middle schoolers need a place that is stable.

The transition:  Create a transition that is gradual and that begins early in the last semester of children’s ministry, inviting students to experience middle school before they transition.  Host events at the end of the school year and over the summer, mingling students together and giving information to parents. Churches can also play a huge role in educating parents on the developmental stages of their kids, so that they can be more in tune with the changes.

Transitioning From Middle School To High School

The tension:  If you have a split youth group where middle school and high school are separate, then chances are it’s scary for an 8th grader to handle going to high school and high school ministry at the same time. It’s a big leap from “Nerf Wars” to “Abroad Mission Trip,” and you need to be intentional.

The importance:  8th graders are on a totally different developmental plane as younger junior highers and begin to check out of junior high fairly early for the need to be “cool.” But the truth is: they still love the junior high activities.  It is important to create activities for them that are still age-appropriate, but safe for them to be themselves at.

The transition:  Just as with children coming into middle school, begin inviting 8th graders into high school activities beginning the second semester of 8th grade year in order to build rapport and familiarity with high school ministry.  Choose a community-building activity, like a winter retreat, as a way to create a mutual “experience” that will cause students to have shared stories. The earlier transition into high school ministry will dominoe into their overall high school experience, because they will go into high school already having friends there from church.

Transitioning Out Of High School

The tension:  The older a teen gets, the busier they get.  Even if a teen does come to church regularly, if you have a one-hour culture in your church like most that I know, the chance is that they’re only going to youth group and rarely step inside “big church.”

The importance:  The desire is that students go to college, choose a church home, and continue in their faith.  However, if they aren’t used to going to your church worship service, how will they know how to church hunt for themselves?  It’s also important to show upperclassmen how to do “adult” things on their own in the church like become a member, tithe, serve, etc.

The transition:  The solution will depend on the culture of your church and of your students, and even then it won’t be easy.  Decentralize church a little for upperclassmen, encouraging them to go to church on Sundays and join a small group somewhere else. Show them how to be the church and not just go to one. Provide them with mentors so that they have someone to talk to, especially if they go away to college. Recognize that transitions should begin long before graduation, perhaps even beginning junior year.

Remember that transitions are gradual, not graduation. What this means is that transitions aren’t one-time events that lead to the next stage in ministry, but rather a guide that blurs the stages of ministry with consistency and familiarity.


heatherlea_squareHeather is a Junior High Director in Indianapolis, working with a talented and diverse team of staff and volunteers. Heather has the privilege of writing on various youth ministry platforms across the interwebs, but you can find her blogging about her life in ministry over at heatherleacampbell.me.

Youth Specialties

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