Six Tips on Preparing for Milestones in Your Ministry

Photo by Edwin Andrade

This post is an excerpt from the Sticky Faith Launch Kit, a 180-day resource packed with tools and strategies to make Sticky Faith work in your ministry. Buy one here

Growing up is hard. So is parenting those who are growing up.

Maybe that’s why we celebrate the markers along the way that remind us all we’re one leg farther along the journey. These markers could be the first day of kindergarten, the last day of elementary school, and high school graduation. Outside of school, memorable experiences like a first date, earning a driver’s license, or bringing home a first paycheck from a part-time job can all evoke reminders that childhood isn’t forever.

These events raise all kinds of feelings for both parents and kids.

One way we can serve families in the Sticky Faith journey is by setting up rites of passage that mark specific milestones along the way. [The term “rites of passage” was coined by French anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep, explaining significant community rituals that shape young people’s identity. For more on understanding rites of passage in the youth ministry context, see Brad Griffin's article] These life and faith markers can provide critical windows for engaging families at particularly tender times.

In our Sticky Faith Launch Kit we included a whole chapter of ideas on creating rituals alongside families—some of them church-based and some that families might celebrate on their own. Here’s a sidebar from that chapter on how one church approached this process:

At our church, milestones became a big focus of our Sticky Faith plan. We began thinking about milestones in a few main categories below. Our goal is to try to celebrate each milestone both corporately and individually:

1. Personal Growth Plans: All middle school and high school students individually complete a personal growth plan to focus on for the upcoming year and then share the plan with their small group. The plans consist of writing out four goals for spiritual growth for the year.

2. Stories of Future Hope: Students write their own stories of future hope. Dreaming about their next few years and what their lives will look like in light of their faith, they write out those stories and share them with their small group leaders. Last year, different students shared their future hope stories with the entire group each week during student ministry program nights.

3. We try to celebrate positive milestones in advance. We no longer want church to be the last place students celebrate life events like graduation or school promotion, so we try to more intentionally schedule advance celebrations rather than trailing after the fact.

4. We try to be equipped for difficult milestones after they happen. We don’t just look at positive rituals coming from our church tradition. We also try to prepare for rites of passage that are difficult life experiences. As much as we attempt to equip young people to make good decisions ahead of time, sometimes we have to deal with a rite of passage that may have painful repercussions, like a pregnancy, an expulsion from school, or a trip to jail. We’ve had small group leaders in delivery rooms with teenage moms and have visited students in juvenile detention centers. Along the way we’ve recognized that young people need our faithful presence during these hard milestones too.

5. We try to make milestones intergenerational. For seniors we have graduation Sunday, but we also take a senior camping trip where adults across the generations join us to share life wisdom. We’ve started connecting incoming sixth graders with adult mentors to serve in the church in a specific area for the year.

6. We involve parents in milestones. We do this through scheduling parenting classes, offering resources, communicating frequently during transition times, and being accessible for parents’ questions and needs in these seasons.

—Matthew DePrez, Intergenerational Pastor at Frontline Community Church, Grand Rapids, MI

How does this list resonate with what you’re doing in your ministry? What would you add, modify, or shift?

Need more ideas? See our Playlist: 20 Free Resources for Transition Season and this article on creating milestones in your church. Or pick up a Launch Kit for over six months’ worth of practical tools to put Sticky Faith to work in your context.