The impact of 8th grade orientation

Like many other congregations, ours has struggled with transitioning 8th graders into our high school ministry after confirmation. Over the past several years, we've put a lot of time and energy into strengthening this transition process. To that end, for several years now, we've done an 8th grade orientation night, an idea we borrowed from our local school district.

8th Grade Orientation 2

We held this night last week. During it, we played games, had a discussion, listened as high schoolers shared about their experience in our high school ministry, gave out t-shirts, and prayed together – all things designed to give teens a taste of what being in our high school youth ministry is like.

For me, the highlight of the night came when I interviewed a panel of high schoolers about their experience in our youth ministry. One of the questions I asked each teen was, “Why'd you come to our high school youth ministry for the first time? Why'd you keep coming back?”

In response to this question, a freshman responded, “It was this night last year that made me come. I had such a good time that I wanted to come back.”

In youth ministry, so often it feels like we're shooting in the dark because feedback can be hard to come by. To hear a teen speak openly and honestly about how this one event convinced him to try out our high school ministry was hugely encouraging. It also confirmed what I've long suspected:

With so many activities competing for their time, teens will no longer do something just because our congregations offer it.

This is especially true when you realize that many of our families don't know what exists beyond confirmation in our congregations.

Now maybe you have a hard time believing this could possibly be true.

I know I did. Until that is, I conducted an assessment several years ago, and heard family after family say our church offered nothing beyond confirmation. When I'd respond by asking specifically about FLY – our high school ministry – they'd ask, “What's FLY?”

Knowing this, if we want teens to attend our high school ministries, we've got to educate them about it. An event like 8th grade orientation gives you a great opportunity to do this. It lets you show families you exist while at the same time giving teens an accurate taste of your ministry, something that helps shatter the stereotype of what teens assume your ministry will be like.

Beyond that, when incoming 8th graders see the excitement high school teens have for your ministry, they can't help but want to be a part of it. For that reason, I expect that next year, when I interview a new panel of teens during 8th grade orientation, I'll hear another freshman explain that the reason they first came to our high school ministry was because they had a great time at last year's 8th grade orientation and decided to give it a shot.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and the forthcoming A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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