Life is filled with changes and transitions. Change can be challenging, even traumatic for some people: especially for children. I remember stressing out the night before my first day at a new school as I advanced from middle school to high school. My mind was filled with fears: Would I like my teachers? Would I find friends? Would I fit in and be accepted? Would I find my classrooms? Would I be able to remember my new locker combination? You’ve been there. We all have.
Fortunately, the teachers and leaders at my school knew that many students felt like I did. In response, they created systems and processes to help take the stress out of the transition. Unfortunately, many churches do not have similar systems to help transition kids and families through the various age-levels and stages as they move through ministry areas in the church. With some intentional planning and collaborative strategy ministry leaders in preschool, kids, and student areas can come together to take the dread out of transitions from one area to the next to give kids and families a sense of consistency and confidence as kids grow.
Transitions and advancement times are opportunities for church leaders to lean-in with families in an intentional way. We can do this by doing three key things at the time of transition.
Communicate – One of the more effective ways to help lead through any kind of change is to communicate. When people do not have answers they tend to invent all kinds of worst-case scenarios in their heads. Leaders can manage fear and frustration by clearly communicating expectations in advance of an event. By preemptively coaching kids and families through an upcoming advancement will help smooth the transition. When the transition is from one ministry to another, this communication needs to come from multiple leaders: the current “sending” ministry leader and the new “welcoming” leader. For instance, the kids ministry leader may communicate that a child is going to advance out of kids ministry into a middle school group, and introduce the child and family to the new leader, who then communicates with the parents and child about what to expect in the new routine. Coordinated communication by ministry leaders is a crucial component in leading through transition. Make the transition a partnership.
Celebrate – Advancements are excellent times to celebrate. We do this most notably in life with graduations throughout a child’s scholastic career. We also celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other types of milestone moments. In the same way, promotions and advancements through the church are opportunities to celebrate the progress, growth, and achievement of a child. This may come in the form of a card, an acknowledgement in the church bulletin, or as a special celebratory advancement event. When the celebration of milestone advancements becomes part of the culture of your ministry, people will look forward to transitions with excitement instead of trepidation. Make the transition a party.
Commemorate – Rites of passage are made more memorable when they are commemorated with a gift that becomes a keepsake. This can be accomplished with a simple certificate, with the presentation of a new Bible or devotional guide, or with some other kind of meaningful memento. It doesn’t matter what the memento is, what’s more important is what the memento does. After the children of Israel crossed the Jordan as recorded in Joshua 4, the Lord instructed them to retrieve 12 stones from the river and to stand them up in that place so that when their children saw the stones and asked about them, they could hear the story of what God had done. Gifts given to commemorate milestone moments (even river rocks) work to anchor those moments in our memories and remind us of God’s faithfulness. Make the transition a present.
Are you doing enough to communicate, celebrate, and commemorate the transitions that kids experience in your church? Partner together with members of your team and with other ministry leaders in your church to help make milestone moments an intentional time of connection for the kids and families in your care.
Chuck Peters is Director of Operations for Lifeway Kids. A graduate of Columbia Bible College, Chuck has served vocationally & voluntarily in Student and Children’s Ministry for many years.