When my husband and I decided to begin serving at our church, we expressed interest in working with high school students. I’ll never forget our first meeting with the family ministries pastor. We met in an elementary classroom, his over six-foot frame too tall for the children’s chair in which he sat. With a smile (he could tell we were suckers), he explained, “We don’t need high school volunteers right now. How do you feel about 5th graders?” Tim and I looked around the room at the crayons and coloring sheets, took a deep breath and responded we would think about it.

Six years later, a get a late night text, “Steph, will you please pray for me?” Our small group of 5th graders are now sophomores. I’m not gonna lie, I shed tears learning to lead ten year olds. They were rambunctious and liked to play tricks. But I wouldn’t trade that group for the world. Leading in a graduated system is a rewarding experience, and here’s two easy-to-do ideas to maximize the opportunity:

Establish traditions. Keep it fun and simple. With my group of girls, it’s the Bed Time Song, complete with hand motions and a dramatic ending. It has become part of the lights-out routine at the final night of summer camp, retreats, and missions trips. Having simple traditions are a way to remind your few of all the other occasions you have shared, and the memories that bind you together.

Celebrate growth. My small group’s 8th grade year was the pay-off. They began asking thoughtful questions and expressing their doubts and hopes. I couldn’t have enjoyed 8th grade if I hadn’t walked with them through 5th, 6th, and 7th grade. After praying with a student who was sad her older sister was leaving for college, I had a flashback to her as a 5th grader, asking our group to pray her sister would get in trouble for being mean. It was cool to reflect with her on how God had mended their relationship and moved them from enemies to friends. As your few grow, find specific ways to encourage growth in character and celebrate how God is working in and through them.

I imagine leaders who stop and start with groups as having relational hiccups. They try to catch their breath, but are always interrupted. If you were just handed a new group and feel over your head, keep your chin up. Don’t stop. The pay-off is coming. It just takes time.

How have you and the leaders at your church made the most of a graduated student ministry?

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