I ran across a meme the other day that joked about how the poster assumed that, based on their childhood movies, quicksand would be a much bigger problem in their adult life. Seriously though, that stuff was everywhere in 80’s and 90’s movies. In churches, we have plenty of our own “quicksand” areas. These are areas in which people just seem to be moving forward only to drop off and completely disappear. This happens often in our generational ministries. Kids drop off in between kids’ and student ministries, between student ministry and college ministry, and between college ministry and young adult ministry. So how do we successfully guide people across these “quicksand” areas?
This is not the end
The first time I ever got to rebuild a kids’ ministry program from the ground up, I made a huge mistake in strategy. We continuously (at my direction) kept designing the program around the idea of “What do we want these kids to know before they leave?” While this isn’t so much of a problem in itself, the subconscious idea was that we were working with a system in which we get a few years with these kids and then they’ll leave…forever. That created a problem of frantic ministry. Because of this simple thought that “this is the end,” we were trying to cram every single thing we could into our work with the kids every week. This created scattered, direction-less ministry for a few weeks until we were able to identify the problem and course-correct. We should always make sure that we are getting the most out of our time in our ministries, but we can’t get frantic. We have to create systems we can trust and then trust those systems to help people move from one area to another. Don’t have a system you can trust to move people along? Take a look at a couple of points below, but make sure there is something in place.
Everyone has their own theories about “why students leave the church after high school and college.” First of all, the myth has been largely debunked. However, if it was a problem, I would blame inconsistency. We tend to allow kids, students, and college-aged young adults to worship (not just through music) in a way that is comfortable to them. Dress is casual, music is modern, and the teaching is relatable. Then, in many churches, they move to a standard Sunday morning service, and they are expected to dress “better,” sing out of a hymnal, and listen to some new Greek words. A culture shock of that nature is enough to make some people question what church is all about. We also create these inconsistencies in our quicksand points. Is your kids’ ministry different than your student ministry? It should be! But, some values, key beliefs, and some methods should be the same. This allows them to get acclimated. Ever buy a fish and dump it straight into the tank? Probably going to die, or at least get a little unhealthy. You have to put the bag into the tank for a while so the water changes temperature slowly. Acclimation is key for avoiding culture shock when people move through these quicksand points.
Prepare them for later
There are a million ways to do this. Moving people from kids’ ministry to student ministry, we came up with about as many as we could. They all boiled down to one very similar thought: We were always preparing people for the next area. Sometimes we had a student leader pulling double-duty for the last section of the school year working with 5th graders. There were times when we would take the 5th graders to our student ministry areas to get them excited about different aspects of that ministry. Overall, it all came down to getting them ready for the next phase.