by Ian Rock
Regardless of the size of a church or specific ministry, we spend a ton of resources (time, financial, and volunteer) creating environments and services that are safe and engaging. We meticulously walk the tightrope of innovation and sustainability, attracting and engaging both visitors and those who call our ministry home.
With so much of our effort and energy being focused on our weekly gatherings, it’s easy to lose sight of what the lasting legacy of our ministry will be as we move kids and students out. Whether we are handing kids off to the next stage in our church, or sending them out after they graduate, it’s wise to consider what we’re passing on with them. One of the greatest ways we can assess the legacy of our ministry is by observing the involvement of our kids and students after they have transitioned out of our ministry.
The church-related experiences, relationships, and values that are instilled in the life of a kid, especially a teenager, will greatly determine their desire and urgency to be rooted in a church community after graduation. Needless to say, a lot is on the line.
Though I’ve worked exclusively with students and have transitioned hundreds of students into their next phase in college, these strategies and values can apply to any stage of NextGen ministry.
Make ministry personal.
Kids are really great at getting lost in a crowd—be it in a setting of 5, 30, or 300+. Even the most outgoing students long to be pursued, and those that are more reserved quickly find their safe place glued to the walls of your ministry space. No matter the size of your ministry, ensure that the number of leaders within your ministry allows for each student to be known, cared for, and followed up on.
We can’t expect a kid to be personally invested in our ministry unless we make the time and effort to invest in them personally.
By doing this, we’re passing on the lifelong value of community.
Expose them to different voices.
I’m always blown away by the response I get from my students when we have a guest teacher in our services. I could have spent months trying to communicate the same point repeatedly, and in 25 minutes of hearing the same thing from a new voice, light bulbs have turned on all over the room.
It’s easy to forget the uniqueness of the kids of our ministry, and that they all hear, see, feel, and respond to things differently. While not devaluing consistency, it’s important that we allow kids to hear from different voices on a regular basis, especially in large group settings. Over time, they will be exposed to different styles, energy levels, and storytelling techniques—and we will more effectively engage individual students across all ages, backgrounds, and personality types.
One of the most frequent reasons for disengagement from ministry, in both kids moving up into student ministry and off to college, is that things are too “different.” More times than not, those kids are searching for an experience that mirrors what they’ve had, and struggle to be open to new styles of worship and teaching. By exposing them to “different” along the way, we better equip them to engage in the local church when it’s their choice.
Hand them off with intentionality.
It should be no surprise that there are spikes in disengagement during transitions between phases. The overall value of our programs will be put to the test once we move kids out, which means we must place a high priority on the handoff. Whether you promote the kids within next generation ministries at the beginning or end of summer, the way we do it is pivotal in setting them and their families up to win. What could we do to make transition, which is difficult in any season, something that becomes a catalyst for growth?
A powerful way to do this is to involve those who have recently walked it out. Sit with the parents of current kindergarteners and find out how they could have best been served during the first week of school. Allow the parents of current 6th and 7th graders to help craft a survival handbook on how to make their son shower the questions students begin asking upon entering middle school. Talk to former students a year or two into college, and come up with a list of churches and on-campus ministries at their university, so that your next set of graduates aren’t starting from scratch as they set out on their next phase.
You’ve spent, at minimum, the current school year investing in the growth of a specific group of kids—protect your investment by handing them off to the next phase with the same amount of intentionality.
Ian Rock has been investing in the lives of students and their families for the last decade, spending the last seven years pastoring in Austin, TX. He’s passionate about seeing parents, students, and leaders live freely and fully in a world where the cross and culture intersect. His favorite leadership moments are when he’s witnessed others find opportunities for impact that match their natural wiring and gifting. His joy comes from spending time with his bride, Gina, their son, Sawyer, and daughter, Tyler. He loves discovering new music, eating from food trucks, gaming, naps, and all things related to Texas A&M. Connect with him on Twitter and Instagram.