The jump from children’s or preteen ministry into middle-school ministry can be one of the largest leaps our students make.

Navigating the transition in a healthy way will help students buy into your ministry and allow God to transform their lives.

Haphazard or lack of planning can leave students feeling lost, alone, and uncomfortable and possibly cause them to drop off or harden their hearts toward the ministry.

Below are several tips that you and your leadership team can implement to help both students and parents transition.

At the end, special consideration is given to youth groups that combine middle and high school students.

We hope you can find some useful tools that you can start using this summer!

Aaron Meservey, Junior High Ministry

P.S. – If you like this blog post, then be sure to check out the Summer Bundle. For $69 get 30 summer games and $282 worth of youth ministry lessons for the summer and beyond!


In this blog post, we list several ideas for students, parents, and smaller/combined youth groups.

Take a look!


Be a VBS leader for 5th (or 6th) graders

VBS is great and terrible.

The time and energy it takes wipes me out, but I try to lead the 5th graders, as they’ll be mine in a couple months.

Probably due to my New Jersey upbringing, I tend to come across as stern and serious before people get to know me.

VBS will often transform how the children look at me from being this big, intimidating face to goofy, fun and approachable.

“Oh, he’s not always serious – he’s a lot of fun!”

While it can be hard to muster up the energy, VBS gives you a great opportunity for students to connect with you.

Also, learning student’s names, rather than the general, “hey man” lets them know they belong.

These little things help calm their angst and get them excited about what’s to come.  

Substitute teach children’s/preteen classes

This doesn’t necessarily need to be you, but can also be any of the prominent leaders in your middle school ministry.

Having one leader who is fun and likes them can make a world of difference to a student.

They may be scared in the moving process but they will remember, “I know Mr. Randy will be there and he’s so much fun.”

Mid-Summer Overnight Outing

For many students, they may not have ever had an overnight trip without their parents, so this can be a big deal for them.

A time of getting to know their leaders and being immersed in the vision of your ministry will get them excited for the start of the next school year.

They begin to build community in a deeper way than they’ve known, which opens students up to the community in which they’ll be participating.


Earning some level of parental trust is essential for a smooth transition.

Let’s face it, there will be students who will need to grow into being a middle-schooler and may not click with others at first in your ministry.

Entering in to the youth group can require a jump up socially, intellectually, and programmatically.

Some students will love it instantly and some will grow to love it.

Without the support of parents, the latter may never get the opportunity to learn to love it because they’ll feel lost and confused.

Particularly in my context where 6th graders move into middle school, some parents, seeing their “little baby” get lumped in with these older students is scary.

Sometimes the transition for parents is harder than for the student.

Enlist New Parents as Leaders

Nervous parents are often eager to get involved.

They want to make sure that everything is up to their standard and will join just to make sure of that.

While they can be frustrating at first, if you get them on your side, they can become your biggest allies.

When you win a parent who feels the need to control, they will protect you with the intensity of a thousand suns.

The big danger to watch out for is if they’re a helicopter parent, whose hovering can damage the ability of the student to grow in faith.

Communicate Early and Often

As youth pastors we’ve built a reputation of being irresponsible – big kids who chose this work because it allowed us to wear shorts to work and play games.

As with many stereotypes, there’s a basis in reality and we have to work to overcome this perception.

As someone whose gifting is not administration, this is my most loathsome task: sending out emails, creating calendars, and making phone calls.

These tasks communicate more than the information you’re giving because they communicate that you’re responsible.

For the weeks leading up the transition, I make it a point to call parents, introduce myself, ask if they have any concerns or expectations, let them know how to learn information and offer open access to me for any questions.

A couple weeks after students have joined, I’ll call again asking how they perceive their student is adjusting and give an opportunity to share any concerns or thoughts.

The second call is often a lot of fun because students are generally excited by the new environment. 

Meet and Greet with Small Group Leaders

Since you’re often the face of the ministry and on occasion may have stage time, parents are often more inclined to trust you than your ministry staff.

While we know the volunteers are often the real heroes in transforming lives, our degree, job title, visibility, etc., can make parents trust you or prioritize your ministry portion and undervalue small group ministry time.

Having an opportunity before the semester begins to introduce parents to their student’s small group leaders, while boasting of how great they are, can do wonders to connect them to every aspect of the ministry.

For younger youth pastors, having some older adults who will be small group leaders will further put parents’ minds at ease.

Parent’s Open House

Early in the semester, hold a parental open house consisting of a normal night of worship.

Many parents still have a mindset that as a youth group, you’re essentially a babysitting service, with little real spiritual formation.

Especially as middle-schoolers develop their pre-teen responses to parental questions:

“How was youth group?’


“What’d you learn?”


Despite these responses being typical for any event, parents will believe their student and can begin doubting the benefits of your youth group.

Hosting a parent’s open house gives parents an opportunity to see what a typical night entails.

Some parents may even join your youth staff afterwards just so they can be a part of what’s going on.


I know many youth groups do not have the students, staff or volunteers divide middle school and high school into separate groups.

Many times your unique struggles can be overlooked and it can be hard to do some of the above suggestions because you may only have one or two students matriculate into your youth group in a given year.

  • For you, I would say the transition process is even more important for a few reasons: Students are often not entering the youth group in a comfort zone. In larger churches and youth groups, each student may have a strong friend group that will set them at ease.  They can cling to one another as they acclimate to the larger group.  For your group this may not be the case and students may be coming in without many, if any, peers.
  • The greater gap between the youngest and the oldest intensifies the angst of both parents and students, but especially the parents. The prospect of their sweet, little 75lb daughter playing dodgeball with a starting pitcher on the high school baseball team could make any parent pause about their child moving up.

Utilize Age-Aspiration

While there are significant advantages to separating middle-schoolers from the high-schoolers, there is one tremendous upside to having a combined group – you have built-in role models.

A unique influence exists as younger students can watch sophomores, juniors and seniors walk faithfully before the Lord, not as a “leader” but a peer in ministry.

Use Older Students to Teach

If there are any places where the middle-schoolers are segregated, consider using some upperclassmen to help teach or lead small groups, Sunday School, etc.

This can help older students take a vested interest in younger students, push them to be a leader as well as helping middle school students feel connected to the larger group, which can be dominated by upperclassmen.

Choose and Modify Games Wisely (Especially at First)

As mentioned above, having students enter a dodgeball arena against high schoolers in their first few weeks may not be the greatest idea.

Nor will many other games where it’s easy for the youngest to be bullied or excluded.

Look to modify classic games to ensure full student participation.

For example, if your group loves ultimate frisbee, require that a middle school student needs to touch the disc on a given possession before you can score.

Now, middle-schoolers become essential and as valuable as gold to each team.


It doesn’t take many huge events or gestures to successfully transition children to your middle school program, but it does take some consideration.

The more you invest up front, the easier it will be for everyone involved.

P.S. – If you like this blog post, then be sure to check out the Summer Bundle. For $69 get 30 summer games and $282 worth of youth ministry lessons for the summer and beyond!

Aaron Meservey is the Pastor of Student Ministries at Elizabeth City Evangelical Methodist Church in North Carolina.  He’s married to a beautiful wife, Liz, and has two daughters: Eden and Chara.