Mind the Gap: 6 Ideas to Do Transition Better

We lose people in transition.

One third will never make the jump from the children’s ministry to the junior high or worse, high school youth group. We lose another third from senior high to young adults. What heart breaking losses. –Heart breaking to the parents and to the church… and the students, although they may not feel it right away.

Not every group is experiencing severe losses. Here are five big ideas they put in action…

1. Continuity of Volunteers

Groups that have much better than average retention rates have leaders follow the students. These volunteers stick with a teen from the upper years of the Sunday School into the middle school, high school or senior high group

A familiar leader helps introduce them to the group and knows exactly who should be making that transition. Some groups will encourage this volunteer to stick with the student until high school graduation! This caring adult see a whole cohort of students work their way through the ministries of the church

2. A Cohort of Students

The educational world has taught us that students complete a program when they travel through with a group of students that they started with. This herd mentality ensures that no one gets left behind. The group looks out for the others and cares deeply if anyone drops out of the group. They serve other purposes like encouragement, nurture, consolation, and positive peer pressure.

As they travel through the grades of high school there is a bond that keeps them coming back year after year. Groups that are serious about walking with students and not leaving any behind nurture these close knit groups.

3. Bridge Pastors

As standard approach is that different pastors have no involvement with any other age group than the one that they are assigned to. The junior high pastor have very little to do with children coming up to the junior high program until they show up on at an event.

Wise leaders work to bridge the gap between two programs. This could be through shared leadership or volunteering in the earlier or later age range. For example the youth group pastor and the college level pastor work together on program nights. When high school students step across that gap to the college program they already have a relationship with the college group pastor.

4. Transition Programs

The gap is where students need more attention not less. So, many churches have set up specific programs for grade 5 and 6 students or grade 7 and 8 students. These groups work to provide extra attention at the end of childhood and the beginning of adolescence. They provide opportunities for students identify who is in their cohort moving through the programs of the church.

Part of the goal of these groups is to prepare them for the next stage of their lives. This is also a great place for leaders from the older age group to spend time with these students so that they feel comfortable to attend the older group.

5. Transition the Parents

Most parents feel that they are doing a good job by getting their kids to Sunday School. When their teens head to the next group, less parents are sold on the absolute necessity that they make that transition.

Proactive leaders have already been working with the parents at the end of the Sunday School years to impress upon them the importance of youth ministry. The senior pastor of the church should share this value with the whole congregation. If it is a deeply ingrained value in your church parents will recognize that this is the expectation. Opting out isn’t an option.

6. Make Summers Count

The drop out rate over the summer can be high. Students take a vacation from church, God, and their commitment to faith sometimes. They decide in their minds that they won’t be back in the fall. What if the summer was a big step forward in their faith? Serving, going on a trip, youth camp, and other activities could move students forward instead of falling through the cracks

Mind the Gaps

They have these signs all over the place in Britain. There’s a danger stepping on to a subway from the platform. As students move into the high speed life of high school, this gap is particularly dangerous. We’ve lost far too many students in these transition periods. The end of the year is going to be here before we know it. It is a time when students will say goodbye and won’t be back next year

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Ron Powell


Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email ron.powell@vanguardcollege.com