At the beginning of the semester I worked on putting together a 9 week series for our middle schoolers that was highly experiential. It was based on a book called the Kingdom Experiment published by The House Studio. The point of the series was to reiterate the truths that Jesus expressed to his listeners in Matthew chapter 5. Every week, the same point was made, that there is a kingdom and we can experience it here on earth. Each week I illustrated one more way to experience the kindgom, and challenged the students to test it out for themselves with experiments they could do at home individually or together as a community with our youth group. The series built incredible momentum, the stories coming from the experiments were amazing and life-changing, and we saw a glimpse of what God could do if we tried, even just a little, to live as Jesus asked us to live.
Now the series is over and I’ve picked a shorter three week series for the month of November. It’s a great series with awesome content—but there is something missing. It’s falling flat and the students don’t seem to be connecting like they did for the nine weeks before. I’m chalking it up to my short memory–and the fact that I’m not offering a key ingredient that I was offering for the nine weeks before: an overwhelmingly obvious point that they can experience–repeatedly.
Here’s what I should know about middle school ministry that I need to remember each week as I plan and prepare messages.
1) Middle school students need a big idea. They need one thing. They don’t mind if you share it for 9 weeks straight. If it’s good, if it’s life-changing, if you are giving them fresh material every week, they really don’t care if you stay on it.
2) Middle school students need to hear a story. Every week during the Kingdom Experiment I shared a true story of someone living that beatitude out or experiencing the blessing or pain that was associated with it. The story ties them into something bigger than themselves–which is something hard to do when young teens are just beginning to begin to differentiate between who they are and who others are around them.
3) Middle school students need a challenge. They like to have ties to the club you’re inviting them to. What do we give them to take home and “own”? What do we give them to do? What opportunities do we provide for them to flex what you’re teaching as an individual?
As I plan for winter messages I’m thinking about these things. I’m asking myself “What am I doing to articulate Scripture in a way that keeps teenagers wanting more, growing more, and connecting more? I’ll begin by celebrating the momentum and even the occasional lulls in the program–because in them both I’ve learned things that are making me better.