Leaning into the Chaos of Middle School Ministry
A frequent question I get from middle school volunteers is this: How to manage the chaos of middle school ministry? Friends over at YM Answers, Elle and Kenny, along with Scott Rubin have some great tips here on “Controlling a Room Full of Middle Schoolers.” I was thinking about this question last night after our combined 5-8 middle school program. The night was full of crazy energy and it was awesome. Students were crazy and loud when we wanted them to be...and amazingly quiet, leaning into listen to every word during the teaching time. I love the chaos and mess of middle school ministry. Instead of being afraid of the chaos...
I challenge you to cultivate it into beauty.
5 tips for leaning into the crazy chaos of middle school ministry
1. Nothing in large group last longer than 15 minutes
Everything is broken down into small program segments. The teaching, worship, and games last no longer than 15 minutes. For students to engage and pay attention, we keep things moving. We plan state changes switching their sensory focus to keep them tuned in.
Here is a sample of our typical middle school program:
Community [8 minutes in Small Groups] they circle up with their small groups to touch base
Welcome [2 minutes]
Fun segment- we rotate in specific segments each week. [5 minutes]
Announcement Video- funny youtube video w/ announcements layered in [2-3 minutes]
Ultimate Game Show Down [5 minutes]
Worship [15 minutes]
Large Group teaching [15 minutes]
Wholeness [1 minute]
Small groups [25 minutes*]
*note: We design small group time to be half “active” group activities [code for game that matches the teaching theme] and half group discussion
2. Program Bumpers
Students need colorful images, sounds, and non verbal cues to engage their developing brain. We use program bumpers each week in between each program segment to help keep their attention and signal something new is happening in the room.
[See this article on brain based learning for more info]
3. We don’t correct from the stage.
If we need to say “shhhhhh” from the stage, than we know we are doing something wrong. Correcting from the stage means your volunteers are not engaging students and are not equipped to help out with creating the right environment in the room. Small Group leaders who are sitting with and near students make a huge difference in leveraging the right energy at the right time. If we need to correct or quiet students from the stage...then it might also be that the game leader, worship leader or teacher on stage is not engaging middle school students well.
4. Plan surprises.
Santa Claus walking in the student room and hiding [where only students can see] to walk unexpectedly on stage during a teaching [to the supposed “surprise” of the speaker]. Random Pillow Fights. Random foam finger rockets flying through the room. Last week I ordered a Pizza delivery on stage during the welcome using a speaker phone. I had it delivered to the stage while I was teaching. The result? A giggling and roaring with applause crowd of middle schoolers. I love having volunteers dress like dinosaurs or snowmen running in throwing candy. If you plan chaos...you can cultivate it into beautiful moments that capture the attention and channels the enthusiasm of middle schoolers. You can use their energy to create environments students love.
5. Say no to boring.
If my worship band decides to get a little too intellectually deep for more than 5 minutes at a time...I say no and tell them to liven it up a bit. I cue them to be high energy [or reflective] in intervals that keep the attention of my middle schoolers. Here is an example: Last week I had to say no to 3 mellow worship songs in a row and tell the worship band to add in a more lively song. But if I am not communicating effectively with my team or looking at the setlist...boring can happen because I didn’t pay attention. We have winter camp coming up this weekend and I had to step in and axe the idea that middle schoolers like to sing 6 worship songs in a row. I can’t even pay attention that long without day dreaming about mac and cheese. As the middle school pastor...I am an advocate for my people and I say NO to boring and plan programs, small groups, and camp worship sets with their developmental stage in mind.
"Boring is easy"
- Kid President