|The most normative picture taken at the Route56 Fall Retreat|
I love 5th and 6th graders. In my opinion, they comprise the most diverse age group ever. Everything about them is ALL over the place, from maturity, what they like, what vocabulary they use, their train of thought, their spiritual growth. This craziness not only varies from student to student, but from minute to minute. Seriously one minute a student will be talking about how the Gospel affects their life, then asking prayer for Peaches, their grandma's cat (and to thank God for making Peaches, both the cat and the delicious fruit). (True story.)
As far as my own experience and knowledge goes, I think the Summit is pretty unique in having a separate ministry for 5th and 6th grade students. Most churches omit this age group, leaving 5th graders in elementary ministries while 6th graders long to be a part of their church youth group but often aren't allowed to join until 7th grade. Some more progressive churches do allow 6th graders to move up to youth group, but often this fails too because they're not ready to be a part of that institution yet. This is such a sad reality in the church today. The secular world is devouring this age group while the church idly sits back and lets them sit in limbo for a few years because, if we're honest, they're awkward (or at least that's the stereotype). While the church is debating over whether 6th grade Johnny should be allowed to play on the youth group basketball team, advertising agencies and the porn industry are showing Johnny what it's like to be older, to be a "teenager." Marketers know if consumers start buying and using their products late in elementary school and early in middle school, they'll have them hooked for life. Marketing agencies aren't the only ones with this knowledge, the pornography industry knows this full well. The average age a child sees porn today is 11. Eleven. Let that sink in. If nothing else, that fact alone should scare the church into caring for this unique age group.
At the Summit, we call Route56 a "transitional ministry." We try to care for 5th and 6th grade students (and their parents) during a crazy time of transition and change in their lives. The church as a whole needs to address this age group too. If you're hesitant about working with 5th and 6th graders, I hear ya. I was skeptical too. But if the church doesn't care for these students and preach the Gospel to them in word and deed, they will find solace and purpose and identity in other things, worldly things that are seeking to devour them.