Well, it’s officially summer in the US of A. For many student ministries, that means camps, trips, and some different programmatic rhythms. And summers not only bring a different rhythm, but they also bring ministry transition. as you welcome incoming grades into your ministry or as you promote students to whatever might be next.
Depending on your church and strategy, you might promote students to their new ministry at the beginning of summer. You might wait to do that at the start of fall. I’ve heard reasons for both strategies, and as long as your reasons are intentional, either can be a win.
But if you’re like me, your strategy on when and how you promote students to new ministries has been far from intentional. Especially early in my time in ministry, I saw my promotion strategy as two-fold.
1. How can we celebrate our graduating seniors?
2. In what ways will we welcome our incoming middle school students?
Well, if I’m being honest, here’s how I probably would have actually thought about those two.
1. What do I have to do about our graduating class of seniors in big church to appease their families?
2. Which event do I need to have to ensure middle schoolers have a good first experience in student ministry?
Rethinking Your Church Promotion Strategy
It’s not so much that I didn’t care about sending our seniors off well or welcoming in our new middle school students. I just viewed them as stand-alone experiences rather than an integrated, intentional strategy. And . . . well . . . our ministry suffered because of it.
Most of the time, my upperclassmen fizzled out by the time they became seniors. (But somehow, like 300% of my seniors showed up on Senior Sunday #shrugemoji.) Not to mention that my incoming middle school students seemed to be a fraction of the original number by January.
It took me years before I realized that my promotion strategy had to be more than a date on the calendar.
Tips for Making the Most of Your Promotion Strategy in Ministry
So, here I am to try and help you from making the same mistakes I’ve made. I’ll do this by sharing a few things I’ve learned along the way from others who are much smarter and have done this much better than me.
1. It’s not just about the obvious transitions.
As I said, my promotion strategy tended to only focus on my incoming middle school students and graduating high school students. Of course those are two big pieces of this. But there are many other key transitions each year that you can’t miss out on. Here are just a few…
. . . MS to HS transition.
. . . Lower-class to upperclass transition.
. . . 7th grade to 8th grade transition (assuming 8th is final year of middle school or junior high).
What are you doing to celebrate these students? How are you preparing them for what’s new in this upcoming phase?
2. It’s not just about the students.
Of course you should be looking for ways to celebrate and prepare students for what’s to come. However, students can’t be your only focus. How are you celebrating, helping, and preparing their parents & small group leaders who are also stepping into a different season of life or ministry environment?
One important way to do that is by preparing them for the next phase of their middle or high schooler. Consider sharing what they can expect from this upcoming phase by casting vision for that next phase in ministry. If you’re communicating to upperclass parents and small group leaders, how are you helping them understand the goal of these final couple years of student ministry?
But it’s not just about preparing them for what’s new in our ministry, how can you prepare them for what’s new in the phase of their students? The Phase Project has some GREAT resources like the phase guides or phase summary cards that can be used to prepare your parents & small group leaders for what to expect.
3. Make it fresh.
When I learned about this strategy, it made so much sense that I was bummed I missed out on it for so long. The idea here is that you always want your students to have something to look forward to. You don’t want their experience to get too stale. Too routine.
My friend Shef (Tom Shefschunas) would talk to me about how their ministry team wanted the 6th grade camp experience to be the best one possible for their 6th graders. BUT . . . he didn’t want it to be as good as their 7th & 8th grade camp experiences. So, they would intentionally not do some things they could have done at 6th grade camp because they wanted 7th & 8th grade camp to be that much better.
So, consider this when it comes to your environments and events . . .
What does it look like to create the best experience possible for your students that doesn’t remove the opportunity to build on that experience and have something to look forward to in the next ministry?
If you have a combined MS & HS ministry, this becomes even more important for a couple of reasons. One is that you’ll have graduating students who have potentially been a part of the same environments and events for over a third of their life by the time they graduate. Which for an 18 year old, a third of your life feels more like 7/8ths of your life.
The other is that you’ll likely have incoming freshmen who won’t be experiencing much difference in the realm of regular environments & events if they’ve already been a part of those for the previous few years of MS ministry. So, the question then becomes . . .
What can we introduce during freshman year that helps set a part environment/event from their previous experience to keep it relevant, fresh & inviting?
Should a big focus of your promotion strategy be celebrating students who will be transitioning in and out of your ministry? Of course! But, how are we making sure that the students we welcome into our ministry actually stick around & get connected? What have we done to make sure that our graduating classes have been regularly engaged rather than just showing up for one final celebration?
At Orange, we talk about strategy as beginning with the end in mind. So, when you think about your promotion strategy, we’re encouraging you to think about what you want to be true of that student’s ministry experience before they move to the next one.
Consider what needs to be true about their transition into your ministry at the beginning for that to happen.
Think about what you want to be true of that student & their life a year after they graduate from your ministry.
Finally, ponder what needs to be true about their exit from your ministry for that to happen.
So, yes…blow it out and pull out the stops when you welcome new students! Celebrate those moving on to something new. However, when you’re trying to develop a resilient faith that these students own, you have to be intentional about the entirety of your promotion strategy. Not just those biggest moments.