Written by: Hannah Cavenaugh from Christ Fellowship Boca Raton
When was your life radically changed by the Gospel?
I’m sure you remember when you decided to follow Jesus. For many of us, it was in middle school or high school, and that is why we decided to become student pastors. Our lives were changed in the formative years of being a teenager, and we want to do everything we can to point the next generation of teenagers to Jesus. However, sometimes this gives us a little bit of tunnel vision. We can have a tendency to view students that are older in our ministry as more important or a better investment of our time and resources than the younger ones.
Before we realize it, the younger students have become an afterthought.
But the fifth and sixth graders in our ministries are ultimately the driving force of the future of the ministry we care so much about. And I know what you are thinking, “Fifth graders aren’t a part of my ministry. I am a middle school and high school pastor, not a kids pastor.” But if we really want to see students come to know Jesus, we need to start thinking more inclusively about who our students are because there is a drop-off.
The moment a fifth grader turns into a sixth grader, their likelihood to attend student ministry decreases. Their lives get busier, their school work gets harder, and they care more about who is there than why they go. They check out of church in this inbetween.
If we want our student ministries to grow and develop for years to come, we have to invest in our younger students before they check out. We can do this by providing two opportunities that they cannot receive anywhere else:
1. Provide space
As fifth graders turn into sixth graders and start making the awkward transition from childhood to adolescence, one thing they really need is a place to belong. Everything in them is telling them that they don’t belong, that they don’t fit in. And they are going to feel that way about student ministry unless we make it clear to them that they belong! We can do this by popping into our children’s ministry and getting to know those fifth graders BEFORE they go to sixth grade.
We make space for them.
We also see that at a younger and younger age our kids start to experience stress and pressure to be the best and perform well in school, sports, and extracurricular activities. We can keep these students engaged in church by providing a space for them to decompress. A place to get away from the stress and pressure. A place specifically for them to belong and feel seen and have fun! If we provide a space like that, they will show up.
2. Provide safe people
As kids enter adolescence they also start to feel the social pressure around them. Like I mentioned above, everything and everyone is telling them that they don’t belong. I’m sure you remember the awkward years of navigating friendships and relationships for the first time. All you want is for people to like you and to fit in. The Church should be the safest place for our students to find community. And not just any kind of community, but life-giving, Jesus-centered community.
There were so many times in my adolescence when I went to a group leader or a friend way before I talked to my parents about anything I was walking through. When we provide a safe place with safe people, we give our students the tools they need to navigate the world around them. When leaders pour into fifth and sixth graders, we reinforce their worth. We give them people who are going to walk with them and point them to Jesus. I know that all of our lives have been changed by someone else doing this for us, so why wouldn’t we want to provide that for our students as soon as possible?
I truly believe that investing in the lives of the next generation will change the world. And I believe that one way to do that is to invest in our younger students. No matter the budget, no matter the physical restriction of space, the investment is worth it. Seeing fifth and sixth graders connect to the local church is worth it. Seeing their lives transform, and seeing them fall in love with Jesus is worth it!
- How can you provide space and safe leaders in your youth ministry?
- Think of things you can implement in your ministry role that will help you invest in the 5th and 6th graders in your ministry.
- Reach out to youth pastors in your area and find a way to partner with one another as you reach the younger youth in your region with the Word of God.
- Check out Feed Lead: a collection of videos designed to equip you and your team with innovative approaches to youth ministry.
- Feed loves to help equip and resource youth pastors in the local church. Reach out to us at [email protected] to find out how we can partner with and support you in your ministry.