“Okay, you’re in the youth group now! Have fun hanging out with kids with facial hair!”

Is there a better way to send our preteens to the youth group? Making the jump can seem overwhelming both to preteens and their parents. Here are some ways to help that transition be as smooth as mustache cream.

1. Invite a few youth leaders to preteen events throughout the year. Maybe you have monthly hangouts or a cool preteen lock-in. Maybe you just have a preteen Sunday school class. Either way, invite a few key youth leaders to join your preteens for whatever you’re doing a couple times throughout the year. This way your preteens can begin building relationships with those mentors and have familiar faces among the adults when they get to the youth group.

2. Host a mixer (without awkward dancing). Put together an event sometime in the late spring that invites both preteens and mid-high students. They spent years together in children’s ministries. This will give them an opportunity to reconnect so they can remember how much they enjoy being together. Then they have those re-formed connections to look forward to in the coming transition only a couple months later.

3. Make sure parents are informed. This may be a job for the youth pastor, but you can at least help a little. The more informed parents feel, the more likely they are to stay engaged. Having a meeting with them or sending out a mailer or e-newsletter before the madness of youth group begins will help them feel empowered to embrace their new role as the parents of a teenager.

4. Take a field trip to the youth group. Pick a Wednesday night or Sunday as school is winding down to take your preteens on a youth group visit. Have the youth pastor recognize them from the platform, and everyone can cheer for them. They need to feel like they’re entering a safe environment, not a scary one. Stick together. Head back to class before youth group lets out and let them unpack what they saw and heard. Taking the mystery out of what happens in youth group also takes away some of the anxiety.

5. Write letters to future selves. Have your preteens draft a letter expressing their feelings on youth group. What are they worried about? What are they looking forward to? Have them address the letters to themselves one year in the future. Keep the letters for them. A year later, when the next group of preteens is about to move up, find students who wrote their letters a year ago and deliver their letters to them. Include a note from yourself, reminding them that the new preteens moving up are probably feeling the same things. Encourage some empathy!