3 Ways to Help Middle Schoolers Survive the High School Transition
By Aaron Thompson
We are in a crucial time of year for youth ministry. You have new lessons to write and a new calendar to plan (that you were supposed to finish three months ago). You have kick-off events coming your way. In a few days, the seniors you’ve poured into for years will leave, and your student leadership team might be looking a little thin. And that wall in the youth room you swore you’d paint this summer? It’s no closer to being done than it was in April.
But there’s something even more important about to happen in your ministry, something that will shake things up for the next four years: the transition of middle school students into the high school group. This transition is huge. For students, this means a new school, new friend groups, new academic pressures, more vigorous sports schedules, and the treacherous jump from middle school ministry to high school. For parents, this season is filled with new hopes for what high school may bring and new fears about the pitfalls typical of this phase of adolescence.
Ask anyone in youth ministry, and they’ll tell you this is also a key time for a youth program. The summer between middle school and high school can bring new life to high school ministry, or it can mean that a group you’ve discipled for three years just kind of, well, falls off the map.
But you get all that. It’s something you deal with every year. So here’s what I’d like to share today: three simple ideas you can implement this month to help improve this key transition for everyone involved.
1) Have your current high school students reach out to new freshmen entering their high schools. Don’t stop at having your sophomore to senior group invite the new freshmen into youth group. Help the freshmen meet at least one upper-classman they will also see at school. This will boost their comfort level, give parents some assurance, and definitely help the middle school to high school jump. Here are some simple ways to get that done:
a) Organize a quick student hangout at each of your high schools before class one day toward the beginning of the year. If you need to, bribe students with pre-class donuts. At the meeting, make quick introductions and help the freshmen get phone numbers of upper-classmen you trust.
b) If you have any meetings left before the middle schoolers move up, have them write cards to incoming freshmen. Have students write to the freshmen who will be entering their schools. Make sure to check these before you send them—inevitably, someone will say something they shouldn’t.
2) Make the parent meeting about more than your ministry. You probably already have a parent meeting for new freshmen, but if you’re like me, you might only communicate about your exciting new ministry options for high school. Consider spending most of the meeting helping parents better understand their new phase of life. Here are some ideas for doing this:
a) Invite upper-classmen to come in and share about what they are seeing at the high school (bonus points if you can help those students then connect those pieces with what is happening in your ministry).
b) Ask around and see if any administrators in the schools are Christians. Invite one or more to come and share with parents about what they see at the school, how parents can be praying for schools and teachers, and what they should be doing to prepare their students spiritually for high school life.
c) Invite in an expert (a local counselor, an author, etc.) to talk about the unique 14-to-18-year-old phase of adolescent development. Help parents understand all that takes place during this stage of life as students build independence, and then connect the dots back to how you want to partner with parents to help students weather the storm of this phase.
3) “Graduate” your middle school leadership. If you are in charge of both middle school and high school ministry, this is an easy move to make. If you have a co-worker who oversees middle school, you might have to make this a next-year goal. But remember that students are likely in your ministry because of the relationships they’ve made in middle school ministry. If moving up to high school ministry means joining a new small group, meeting all-new leaders, and getting to know a new youth pastor, they will have greater cause to re-evaluate their commitment. Familiar faces can mean everything when a student is experiencing turnover in so many other parts of life.
Those are three quick, practical steps you can take. Give them a shot, even if you can’t pull them off before the first bell of the new school year rings. Remember that in the first three months of fall, transition is everything. Keep circling back to make sure your freshmen are fitting in and the new college students you just launched know you still care. When we make those two moves in youth ministry, we set students up to feel loved and connected to the church, and that means they find faith that sticks!
About the Author
The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry… Read More