Life in the Middle (School) — YM360

Middle School students are some of my favorite people in the world, yet when I tell people that I teach 8th-grade English, the response is typically, “I don’t know how you do it!” I get it. Middle schoolers are navigating life in the middle between being a kid and quickly becoming an adult. They have boundless energy, a roller coaster of emotions, and that’s not even factoring in their incredible quirks. Did you know that other than infancy, middle schoolers’ brains are growing faster than they ever have or ever will? No wonder they can be a little strange. They have so much going on in their head! It’s a lot to manage, nurture, and direct, but it can be done, and it’s worth the effort.

It’s our job, as student workers, to partner with parents to lead middle school students to Jesus. This is an imperative time in their life. They are constantly making decisions and forming their worldview. They are deciding whether a life following Jesus is worth it or if they should just forget it and follow the culture. They want to know ultimate truth. They are eager to learn and grow and be challenged. There are several easy ways that we can set up our ministry to middle school students to fit their needs and to help minister to them in the best way possible.

Culture is key. When students enter your space, they want to not only feel welcome but included. They don’t just want a friendly atmosphere; they want friends. They don’t want to have to search for someone to sit with; they want to know that when they come, there will be people ready to include them. You can help create a culture that says, “There you are!” instead of, “Here I am!” It makes all the difference.  

10-12 minutes. Research shows that’s about all you’ve got for a middle school mind to pay attention to a message. Keep this in mind as you are preparing your message for middle schoolers. If you want them to retain the information presented, keeping your speaking time short, straightforward, and relatable is best.

Students learn better when there is a visual. Is there a way to visually connect with what you are speaking about? Is there an illustration or prop that you can pull on stage? Can you add a slideshow with images and keywords? Having a visual will lengthen the time that students will be able to focus on your message. It will also help them remember your message as they go about their week.

Get them talking. They love to talk, and honestly, they need to talk! One of the best ways that middle schoolers learn is through interaction. Our small groups should be a time where students can discuss the issues, not sit in another lecture. Having a safe space where they feel comfortable asking hard questions is so important.

They also need volunteers that will pour into them and foster relationships with them. Relationships are critical during this time when middle schoolers are truly deciding if the church is for them. Knowing there is a leader that is on their team is crucial!

Middle school students seem to have enough energy to solve the energy crisis. A key way to engage middle schoolers is by getting them moving. You can easily incorporate movement through games or interactive responses.

Another great way that middle schoolers learn is to get their hands moving. Some ways that you can get their hands moving is by teaching students how to annotate a Bible verse or how to take notes during the message. Teaching students how to take notes can help keep them focused and off their phones during the message.

As you reflect on how you are reaching the middle school students in your church, here are some questions that you can use to help you figure out the best practices for your middle school ministry.

  • Is my middle school programming set up for how students learn the best?
  • What are some minor changes that I can make to improve student learning?
  • Is there a visual illustration that I could create and incorporate into my teaching?
  • Where can we add more time for discussion? 

Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:

  • Do you do anything different in your approach to middle school ministry compared to high schoolers? What is it? How has that worked?
  • What have you seen your middle schoolers respond to best? Why do you think that is?

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