We all know middle school ministry can be difficult for the simple reason, they are middle schoolers! One of the most difficult tasks in middle school ministry is speaking and not being upstaged by the walls, the curtains, the ceiling, a fart, a noise, what they had for lunch that day, or simply just their own mind. Distractions are seemingly endless and often times we wonder, ‘did we actually get through to any of them?’ There is no perfect science to speaking to middle schoolers, and if you are even doing it I applaud you. But hopefully these 8 tips for speaking to middle schoolers will help you on your journey.
1. Tell Stories
This tip can apply for speaking to any audience. Stories are the best way to connect, and especially if you are speaking to middle schoolers. Their attention span is SHORT, so you have to do things to break it up and get them to lean in a little bit to pay extra attention. Stories are always good for this! Note, it is always best to tell personal stories. Canned stories and stories that you heard from some other pastor once upon a time sound cool when you are prepping your message but they will never connect like a personal story.
2. Use Humor
Tell jokes, add funny elements to your message, and throw in random humor that catches them off guard. It only takes a few seconds for middle schoolers to start hearing “blah, blah, blah” so like we said you have to break it up a little. Be careful to bring it back quickly though because as you probably very well know, middle schoolers can sometimes take a long time to get refocused after a joke or funny story. So, bring it back quickly.
3. Ask rhetorical questions/give opportunities for interaction
For example, “raise your hand if you have ever felt scared”. Or, “how many of you have a favorite place to be?” Raise your hand as you ask the question, and they will follow suit. Give them opportunities to interact with what you are saying. You don’t have to literally have conversations with them in order for them to interact with your message.
4. Show Visual Aids
Use props, put pictures up, act things out. Give them something extra to look at to grab their attention. Telling a story about your dog is great, but putting up a picture of your dog while you tell the story is what is going to really keep them engaged. Describing how someone knocked your hat off is cool, but putting on a hat and acting it out is what will keep them on the edge of their seats.
5. Be Prepared
Prepare your message and know what you are talking about. Winging it with middle schoolers does not work well. Middle schoolers need fast paced and to the point, and a lot of times when you are unprepared that is when you ramble. Plan your message to be about 15-20, no longer than 25 minutes. Middle schoolers’ attention spans are not that long so don’t expect them to listen to your 45 minute dissertation.
6. Be Genuine
Relate to them. Try not to be staring at your notes the whole time (if you can don’t even use notes), don’t have a big podium or table in between you and them, and never stand way above them. Your students will smell fake from a mile away and adding a bunch of things that make it seem as if you are not engaged or genuine will not help your cause.
7. Eliminate distractions
Cut out distractions! Just last week I had the great idea of filling up some coolers with Gatorade for after our big game and before the message instead of just letting them drink out of the water fountain. I thought it was awesome until everyone was playing with the cups and there were 1000’s of pieces of ripped up cup on the floor after my message. Eliminate distractions on a large scale as well as removing little distractions such as one student having a squeaky chair.
8. Get help from your leaders
As we have discussed, the difficulty in speaking to middle schoolers is that they are distracted easily and often times have trouble behaving. That is where it is so helpful to have your leaders sitting among them, ready to remove distractions, and remind them to pay attention. One student misbehaving can sometimes be enough to distract a room of 50 students, but if your leaders can take care of the situation quickly it will help you out immensely.
I have spoken to rooms of 8 middle schoolers and to rooms of 500 middle schoolers and there are always challenges. So, whether your group is just a handful of students or a stadium of students know that it is anything but easy. If you are frustrated, know that you are not alone! Communicating to middle schoolers is difficult, but I hope these 8 tips will make it just a little bit easier.
Todd has been in youth ministry for over a decade and has a passion for reaching lost students and training youth workers to do the same. He is the founder of Stoked On Youth Ministry, a speaker, author, and pastor. When Todd is not writing or speaking he enjoys surfing, baseball and most importantly hanging out with his awesome wife and three beautiful daughters. You can connect with Todd on Twitter @TheTodd_Jones, Instagram @Todd_Jones or for speaking inquiries visit TheToddJones.com