It’s called the “drop-off.” In student ministry, the largest “drop-off” — or “drop-out” time — is when students graduate from high school. The second largest time for students is at the end of the 8th grade year. It’s painful, but that’s when a lot of kids just quit coming to church.
What about in kids ministry? The greatest segment of children that tend to “drop-off” are those who are at the end of their 5th or 6th grade year, depending on which grade is the last in a given church’s elementary grades.
Why? The reason is the same across all ages. Generally speaking, when people are in transition, they also tend to “take a break” from attending church. With kids, there is a major transition between being a child and becoming a teenager. What child doesn’t look forward to the next group of peers to which he’ll belong? In their minds, they are done with “kids stuff,” and they are ready to move on. That’s why kids need to be reached on a different level. That’s why we need to be in that transition with them.
I’ve found two things that can dramatically reduce the “drop off” with preteens.
1. Plan special events for preteens in transition.
When I was a children’s pastor in North Atlanta, we would intentionally schedule late Fall and December events with our older kids. My wife would have special outings with the oldest group of girls in our children’s ministry, while I would take the boys and their dads on an annual paintball expedition. The result: A near-negligible drop-off with our kids. The connection in the Fall carried over the holidays into the New Year. We spent all Spring connecting kids with their future leaders (in the student ministry) and teased with the invite to summer camp with the students. They were “moving up,” not “moving out.”
2. Establish a pattern of small group involvement.
We also knew that it was critical for our kids to be in great small groups. Studies show that living our faith in smaller groups of community can lead to a stronger walk with God. This is also true for kids. If you establish a pattern of small group involvement at a young age, then there is a much greater chance that those 5th and 6th graders will stay involved in the church and its ministry into their adulthood.
Here are other important things to remember:
Train your leaders to connect with kids and their parents and families.
Establish regular connection times with kids outside of Sunday morning.
Use great Bible Studies that will connect The Bible and the story of God’s salvation to the life of each kid.
Be intentional in every thing you do.
If you are diligent in following these guidelines, the “drop-off” may become the “pick-up!”