Smooth Transitions

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When it comes to slipping into a swimming pool, there are two
kinds of people. There are the Jumpers and the Inchers. The Jumpers
don’t care how cold it is. They know they can handle the shock of
the chilly water, so they cannonball right in. But the Inchers
would rather get used to the cold water one slow inch at a
time.

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In your ministry there are Jumpers and Inchers. The Jumpers can
leap right in and quickly adapt to new experiences and
surroundings. However, most of your kids are probably Inchers. The
Inchers need time to adapt to big changes and new environments.
Keep this in mind when kids reach key transition years in your
ministry. It won’t hurt Jumpers to inch sometimes, but if you make
Inchers jump, there’s a good chance they’ll never want to get in
the pool again.

Transition years are exciting and scary for kids, and they’re
usually exciting and scary for leaders, too! They don’t need to be
scary, though, for either you or the kids. Here’s how to
successfully implement yearlong ministry transition programs –
from people who’ve been there, done that, and are extremely excited
about the results!

Preschool Ministry to Children’s Ministry
Implementing a year long transition period for kids moving from
preschool to elementary ministry is a relatively new trend. Most
churches aren’t doing it yet, but there’s a lot ommon to hear a
children’s minister say, “I’m not sure what to do with the
kindergartners. They’re too advanced for the preschool ministry,
but they’re not quite ready to be with the older elementary kids.”
So what do you do with these kids? Take these tips from Robin
Dembicki, children’s pastor at Dallas Bible Church in Dallas,
Texas.

Dembicki successfully implemented a kindergarten transition
ministry, and her excitement is evident when she discusses the
program. “Kindergarten is a wonderful experience, and we make a
celebration of welcoming them into the kids’ ministry,” she says.
While DBC’s goals and strategies for this ministry are specific to
their programs, there are several key points that are transferable
to any church.

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Communicate with parents. It’s imperative to
involve parents in the transition process so they’ll understand
what their kids will be doing and help ease the kids into their new
surroundings and experiences. “Parent communication about the
logistics is key to the success [of your transition],” says
Dembicki. Let them know in writing what your plans are, what to
expect, where and when their kids will meet, who their leaders will
be, and so forth.

Challenge kids to grow. While most
kindergartners won’t start the year able to read and write, they
still need to be challenged to move to a new level of learning
methods. This can be achieved by occasionally combining them with
first-graders for games and activities so they have role models for
these new skills. In addition, choose and train your leaders
carefully so they can accommodate the differences among kids. Adapt
your curriculum to fit readers and nonreaders, writers and
non-writers. “Teachers have to be sensitive to where the kids are
developmentally and skill-wise and use activities that will
encourage their spirit-ual, relational, and emotional growth,” says
Dembicki.

Customize group environments. In situations
where kindergartners are integrated with several older grades in a
large group setting, such as in children’s church, make every
effort to make them feel special rather than intimidated. Designate
a special place for kindergartners where they can clearly see and
hear what’s happening. Invite parents to join kids for a few weeks
while they get acclimated to the new environment. Also encourage,
allow time for, and train kindergarten small group leaders to
“reteach” any potentially confusing lesson elements in an
age-appropriate way. This helps younger children to not feel
overwhelmed by new teaching methods, new words, and new people.

Children’s Ministry to Student Ministry

Another group of kids that can often feel overwhelmed or
disengaged are those entering youth ministry. Jason Curry, pastor
to students at The Church at Rock Creek in Little Rock, Arkansas,
asked his high school seniors what they remembered about sixth
grade.

“Half of them couldn’t remember anything, and the other half had
horrible memories of an awkward stage in life,” he says. His church
is working to change that with their Trek6 ministry. “We set out to
create something that would leave lasting memories and in turn lead
to lasting relationships,” explains Curry.

The Trek6 “creation” seems to be working extremely well, as Rock
Creek’s sixth-grade attendance has almost tripled in just two
years. “When most youth ministries are playing catch-up to get
sixth-graders involved,” says Curry, “our kids are overwhelmed with
excitement as they enter the youth ministry. It’s been one of the
best things we’ve ever done!”

Consider using some of the successful ministry ideas from Trek6
in your ministry.

  • Create a fun environment. Sixth-graders no
    longer consider themselves children, yet they’re not quite
    teenagers. They’re different, and they expect and need something
    different. Curry suggests throwing out the “Sunday morning
    rulebook” and making a wildly fun experience for the kids. “On any
    given Sunday, you might have a mud fight or play dodge ball,” says
    Curry. “However, at the end of the fun, you apply a completely
    foolish game to a life-changing lesson,” he explains. As the year
    progresses, the sixth-grade environment changes so it looks and
    feels just like the youth ministry.
  • Connect with older students. Perhaps the most
    important aspect of Trek6 is the relational one. This is how kids
    learn that the youth ministry leaders are with them for the long
    haul. They get to connect with people involved in youth ministry,
    such as high school students and interns who teach at Trek6 on a
    regular basis. So when kids enter youth ministry, they’ve already
    built relationships with several different students and leaders and
    feel like they’re part of the group.
  • Coordinate ministries to serve kids. Did you
    notice that the minister leading Trek6 is the youth minister, not
    the children’s minister? Whether your transition year ministry is
    part of the children’s ministry or the youth ministry isn’t
    important. What is important is that the children’s and youth
    ministers work together. After all, since the children’s minister
    knows where they’re coming from and the youth minister knows where
    they’re going to, together they can create the best experience for
    kids in transition.
  • Someone who knows where sixth-graders are coming from is
    Dembicki. DBC also has a special transition ministry for
    sixth-graders. Dembicki, like Curry, has seen great results from
    this ministry. Check out what’s going on in the sixth-grade
    transition ministry at DBC.
    Challenge them spiritually. At this age, kids are
    beginning to be challenged by their peers about what they believe
    and why. Therefore, it’s up to you to challenge kids to know what
    they believe and to live what they believe. Dembicki believes
    sixth-graders should be grounded in the basics of Christian faith
    and that they should discuss issues unique to their age from a
    biblical perspective. These studies should take place using a
    method that’s consistent with what kids will encounter in youth
    ministry.
  • Connect with others. The sixth-graders at DBC
    learn to connect to a vast array of people. They learn to reach out
    to new kids, which can be difficult at this age. They enjoy special
    events such as pizza parties and camping trips with other kids in
    the ministry. The sixth-graders are invited to join in the Sunday
    evening student worship time so they can meet older kids and
    acclimate to the youth environment. And they connect with younger
    kids by serving and leading in the preschool and children’s
    ministries alongside an adult leader. As kids learn to reach out
    and build relationships with people of other ages, it gives them
    the tools they need to forge relationships with the new people
    they’ll encounter in youth ministry. In addition, making strong
    connections with other sixth-graders gives them the feelings of
    acceptance and belonging they need as they enter youth
    ministry.

     

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