There is a level of frustration, irritation, and anger some people will never know unless they are a youth worker. Getting students to settle down, stop talking, and listen can be some of the most difficult tasks you will do in youth ministry. But communicating the Word of God is why we do youth ministry, so it is crucial we get students to stop talking and pay attention. But how?
My middle school ministry is nuts! Like most middle schoolers the students are packed with energy, always doing something, can’t sit still, and going crazy all the time! Our youth room isn’t extremely large so when 75+ middle schoolers pile in it is very easy for talking to be noticeable and distracting. However, they are always silent during the message. It is the craziest thing, so how do we do it? And what can you do to get students to stop talking and pay attention?
1. Expect it
Have high standards for your students. Expect them to behave and be able to sit and listen. Too often we do not expect enough from our students and that is why we never get it. Have standards you expect from them and hold them to those expectations. Sixth-twelfth graders and anywhere in between should be more than capable of sitting still and quiet for 20-30 minutes listening to a message. Expect the right behavior from them.
2. Communicate it often
I literally start every single message, every single week with these exact words…
“Hey if you are new, haven’t been here in a while, or just need a reminder… We love having fun here and we will go crazy but this time right now is a time for you to sit, relax, listen, and hopefully learn. I need everyone to put their phones away, don’t talk to the person next to them, and give me the next 20 or so minutes of total respect”
You have to communicate your expectation to them every single week. I set the standard right away so they have something to live up to. Sometimes I even say “if you are sitting next to someone who is going to tempt you to talk go ahead and move now”. Set the expectation and drill it into them every week.
3. Assign leaders
Use your leaders as crowd control. What makes students talking in the middle of your messages even more frustrating is when you are the one that has to deal with them from up front. Get your leaders to spread out and be the enforcers of the standard that you set. Unless your group is just way out of hand the talkers are usually just a few individuals or a few groups. Assign your leaders to sit by or with those people.
4. Follow through
You have set the standard of behavior so when students do not meet it you need to follow through on making them behave. Move them to another seat (or have a leader do it so it is not disrupting to the entire group), send them out of the room, or do something to follow through on their need to meet the standard you have set. I only had to do something like this 3 times in the last year. It is enough to remind students that it is a serious issue and they need to behave.
5. Build relationships
Both you and your leaders need to be intentional about building relationships with students because they are much more likely to respect you when they have a relationship with you. Once a relationship is formed students are more likely to behave and even police other students to behave on your behalf. Be intentional about getting to know students and building relationships.
I completely understand how difficult it can be to get students to stop talking and pay attention. But I hope that these tips we use to get our students to listen can help you to do the same.