I’m curious as to how this is for others out there. Since coming to Gateway, one of my priorities has been to help transition 5th graders into the middle school. We promote on August 24th. Over the summer we’ve had 4 5th grade preview services where our 5th graders were taken to the middle school program for a sneak peak. This has been very successful as both the kids and parents of the kids have given us great feedback. However, over the past three preview services, we’ve seen 15-20 5th graders each week on the average… and I’m probably being a little optimistic with the numbers. Yeah, I said 15-20!
There’s nothing wrong with having 15-20 5th graders on any given weekend (for three services). Many churches don’t even have that many. However, I have about 80 five year olds each Sunday. Yes, 80. What we have here is called elementary attrition. It is where we slowly lose kids as they get older. If I were to guess, this happens at most churches because ministry becomes less and less relevant as the kids get older. We’re using Veggie Tales and puppets to reach our older elementary age kids. Typically, our middle school ministries hit the mark in reaching these kids in a relevant way, but they often have to start from scratch because many of the 5th graders stopped coming long ago.
So, the task before me at Gateway is to restructure our program for 4th and 5th graders. We’ll do anything necessary to be relevant to these kids. We’re also adding small groups on the weekends to add the relational component, this way they’ll at least be connected. I plan to run the numbers for the other grades as well to see the grade that the attrition really starts.
What about you guys? Have you recognized any attrition patterns with your elementary age kids? Do you have more older elementary kids or less? What do you attribute to this?
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Yes! We have had the same problem. We have made a few changes and have seen some very encouraging results.
1. We changed the curriculum for our Bible study hour from LifeWay to Grapple. Grapple is much more relevant and engaging. That helped.
2. We changed the way we structure Bible study for our 4/5th graders to put a greater emphasis on small groups.
3. We began a special ministry to allow the 4th and 5th graders to serve. Instead of “attending” children’s church or big church (some terms never die…) they now serve as “C.A.S.T. Members” for children’s church. They run our tech, lead our worship, interact with the “little kids” using small hand puppets, etc. I use the “practice” time with the CAST kids as another discipleship time. Not all are involved, but it has created great enthusiasm across the board.
4. Through the Bible Study class, we have also created more “special events” that are kind of “youth-y” for the 4th and 5th graders like a lock in, scavenger hunt, Nerf Night, etc.
We were losing them around 4th grade.
same problem here. We’ve found going to a small group format has helped curb this a little. We have our Jr.High/Middle school leaders get involved in the 5th grade small groups for 3 weeks to start relationships..
I agree with most obvious reasons why this happens; but it’s also on the parents. Most parent make their Kindergartner attend, but give 3rd-5th graders a choice. Don’t you see this as well?
I agree with Jonathan. Kids increasingly are given a choice about church attendance, or at least Sunday school & Weds night. So, as they move into upper elementary it becomes a free market where church programs are actually competing against their other interests.
This leaves a problem for the children’s ministry: Do we alter our programs to boost attendance, or stick with what we believe the kids need most, or try to find the middle ground.
At our church we’ve switched the Fall semester of Weds night entirely to Upward Soccer. It’s a program that brings in many unchurched families and kid beg to play. The downside is that we have fewer minutes overall to share the Gospel, but its with a larger group. And we large numbers of upper elementary kids.
Thanks for posting about this article.
We see it somewhat. I do notice a huge difference in our main campus that is bigger and and focused programing that overlaps into the youth ministry.
We don’t have a graduation but a ministry overlap with the youth group. As a result we have seen a dramatic drop in our elementary attrition.
In our main campus – Avg. K-4th attendance 70
Avg. 5-7th attendance 35
In our other campus – 1-4 attendance 30
5-6th attendance 10
Where I am at a loss is what to do with the older kids when you don’t have enough for their own environment. I find it much more difficult to maintain relevance.
As a parent, I have certainly seen this. I have always noticed that “childrens church” is great from about K -4th grade. Then around 5th grade (I have seen this first hand with my oldest daughter) they start to feel that they are “too old” for it and want to consider the regular church. I have also noticed that she has more of an interest in being “involved” with ministry. She wants to be active in the church, and that’s a great thing. I think the problem is they may not be old enough, and they can become discouraged. I think participation in what’s going on really increases commitment and focus. They can have an opportunity to learn early on that it’s better to give than to receive.