Meh or Memorable: Welcoming Sixth-Graders Well

Sixth-graders - welcoming well

As a kid, church was a normal part of my life. During the week, I can remember attending children’s choir practice. I remember children’s church on Sunday mornings. I remember Easter egg hunts at the pastor’s house, and Christmas plays in the sanctuary. Mostly, I remember being one of the rising sixth-graders anxiously awaiting the day I could move up to youth group.

The youth room in our church was the coolest in the building. There were brightly colored couches, a ping pong table, and a fridge filled with soda! I couldn’t wait to cross that threshold as a rising sixth-grader!

I honestly don’t remember a lot about starting youth group but I remember feeling shy around the older kids. But I don’t remember the logistics of how things progressed. I remember we had “move-up Sunday.” As a graduating fifth-grader, I received a Bible and that afternoon, I started attending youth group.

As a youth minister, I want to be more conscious of the transition of sixth-graders into my youth group – I want them to be as excited about starting youth group as I was, and I want their experience to be memorable.

Before Sixth-Graders Join Your Youth Ministry

Plug into the Kids’ Ministry

I make it a point to work closely with the children’s minister. We are in constant communication about annual events (VBS, Easter egg hunts, Trunk or Treat, etc.) I try to be a regular fixture and volunteer for all major kids’ ministry events.

Maybe that means being a small group leader for the fifth-graders during Vacation Bible School. Or maybe that means helping lead crafts at the annual Easter fest. After all, they will be rising sixth-graders soon! 

I also try to work a few multi-generational events into our regular calendar. A couple of times a year, we host movie nights for all ages. We host a Parents Night Out – an evening for parents to drop their kids at church for free childcare (provided by adult volunteers and teens from the youth group) while they enjoy a few hours on their own.

Allowing time for the teens and children to interact is crucial in helping ease the transition from one program to another. Events like these allow the teens to practice their leadership and mentoring skills and they allow the kids to engage with the teens in personal and tangible ways.

Becoming a regular presence for the children and allowing teens to do so will grant the ability to begin building relationships early. In addition, it will allow you to learn the names of those kids getting ready to join youth group and help the kids feel at ease when it’s their time to move up.

Get to Know the Parents

I’m not a parent, but I am an aunt. Watching my nieces and nephews grow up is an exciting and slightly heartbreaking time. I love watching them discover new things! I love watching them grow. But I also wish time would slow down a little. I can imagine parents feel the same way, probably multiplied by ten!

Being a regular presence in the children’s ministry will not only allow you to get to know the kids, but it will also give you a space to get to know the parents. Opening the doors to parents and building relationships with them will help put them at ease as their child is a fifth-grader prepared to move up into youth ministry.

Rising Sixth-Graders Youth Group Preview Day

As the school year draws to a close, it may be beneficial to offer a preview day for parents and rising sixth graders to learn about youth group. This could be a time to allow youth and parents to explore the youth meeting location, to interact with the volunteer team, for the youth minister to share the mission and vision of the youth program, and for parents to ask questions and voice any concerns they may have. This can also be a time to set a starting date for new youth to start attending regular youth group meetings and events.

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Personal Follow-up

Consider the follow-up and personal touches that can make a new youth feel significant. After your preview day with youth-written letters welcoming each sixth-grader to the youth group family. The letter will likely end up in their bible, bulletin board, or book. Wherever the letter ends up is insignificant – what will matter is the statement of value it makes to the recipient.

I think we can all agree, the step from the children’s ministry into the youth ministry is a big one – and not just for the kids. It can be exciting and scary for the kids and the parents. I’ve lost youth in the past by not properly helping prepare them. As Youth Ministers, we can help make that transition easier for the new sixth-graders by collaborating with parents to make their kids as comfortable as possible, by building relationships early and nurturing those relationships as the kids become teens.

Sarah Taylor has been the youth director at Gulf Cove United Methodist Church in Port Charlotte, Florida, since 2017. She has a Master’s Degree in Youth Ministry from Wesley Seminary as well as a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. She loves books and writing, has a borderline obsession with Harry Potter and Gilmore Girls, and loves Cherry Pepsi. She lives in North Port, Florida, with her 14-year-old cat, Milo.

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