“Well, this is just ridiculous. There’s a reason certain things are a tradition around here. You are ruining senior year! You are ruining everything!”
Maybe you expect that from one of your students. But what if I told you I heard those words coming from the mom of a teenager and that ruining everything meant we were changing where our student ministry attended summer camp? I had expected a few students to struggle with changing the location for camp, but I surely wasn’t prepared to get such heated backlash from parents too!
This mom was right about one thing. There is a reason that certain events become tradition in student ministry—they’re valuable! Changing them just to change something is not helpful. But for most traditions, a day comes when things have to move over or move out in order to make room for something new. Whether it is camp, church model or adding small groups, learning how to change well is important.
It won’t be easy. But there are some great reasons to face the challenge head-on.
It’s healthy for a student’s faith. When we go to the same place every year for an event it can be easy for for a student to associate God with a place. Same thing when it comes to a small group that needs to be split in order to grow. A student may believe their faith hinges on being with those people. It’s great to have these connections, but change helps students realize their faith is about them and God. And learning to manage that kind of change now will help them face it in the future.
Sometimes new things are better. Growing up, my church would always do a weekend retreat at the same ranch. I loved it. It was magical. But you know what else was magical? When we changed that tradition and went to a facility with zip lines, better food, and heated cabins. Sometimes clinging to traditions means missing out on new ideas and experiences– maybe even better ones.
So, if your ministry is heading in a new direction, know that you may be doing the healthiest thing. In fact, a well-handled change—even a difficult one— may help your students and your ministry grow closer.
- Rally the troops. Who are your most influential students? The natural leaders? Getting those students on board before anyone else is crucial. Meet with them before you make any announcements. Acknowledge that you see them as leaders and ask for their input and support. With influential students on board, the rest will more likely follow.
- Be Clear About the Vision. You want the best experience for your students. So tell them that! Help them understand the reason for this change. Make sure they know this wasn’t a haphazard decision but one you feel strongly in and know will benefit the group. Steer clear of bashing the old way. Instead, tell them why their leadership matters during this transition—and why the new tradition will be their legacy.
- Acknowledge the loss. Traditions are traditions for a reason. Something about the old event, the old camp, or the old way of doing things was special to your students. And you know what? It’s okay to let them say so. If they are confident you understand how great the old way was, they can trust you when you say the new way is better for them.
- Model Bravery. There will be moments when you feel all of this may have been a bad idea. Like maybe the loudest voices are right. But if you believe this new direction to be the place God is leading your ministry, stay the course! If you can hang on for one year, create one positive experience, you may end up teaching students a great lesson about perseverance—and you will create a new tradition in the process.
Have you changed a tradition recently?
What were some of the challenges? What were some of the wins?
Have a plan for this summer? Check out High School Camp!
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