Let's face it—hanging out with middle school (I call it junior high!) students in the hopes of bringing them closer to Jesus takes serious guts. It is an energy-packed, patience-stretching, sometimes smelly, time-consuming, thankless, awkward and overlooked calling. We are clearly the only people on earth who could get away with belching a Bible lesson or having a swim party in the baptistry. Junior high ministry veterans would agree that ministering to young adolescents is a blast, but it also requires a great amount of wisdom and smart ministry on our part. This quick crash course in junior high ministry has been developed after 10 years of good and bad ideas. Some are originals; some have been said before; all are crucial to consider as you seek to reach this awesome age group. Celebrate Their Energy
Junior high students have an abundance of energy. I have met many well-intentioned youth workers who have attempted to contain or correct this trait with little success. The truth is, to minister to this age group effectively we must celebrate and wisely direct this God-given electricity. If we don't, junior highers will be tempted to misuse their energy by distracting people around them, running around with a fire extinguisher or playing floor hockey with the senior pastor's commentaries. I am convinced there is a better way!
Strategically Placed Games: Who says we have to teach 35 minutes straight just like the high school ministry? Try the 15-Minute Rule: For every 15 minutes of teaching, include an energy-burning activity or game. Maybe the activity illustrates a point, or it could be completely random. A strategically placed activity might break your flow, but it greatly enhances a junior high student's ability to stay mentality engaged. Side note: Call me unspiritual, but after a decade of junior high ministry, I am doing many more 15- or 20-minute lessons than 35-minute lessons.
Mission Trips/Service Projects: While all age groups benefit from active learning and service, I believe it is most important in junior high ministry. Use their energy to play games with kids living in poverty, organize donations, mix concrete or clean up a local park. Don't let these opportunities be extras or just summer traditions. Breathe active service into the ongoing fabric of your intentional ministry to junior highers. Allowing service to become your curriculum will be a powerful faith-shaper in the lives of students.
Participatory Worship: For some reason, junior highers still love silly motions to worship songs. While I'm not a huge fan, they are! A wise youth worker won't push them toward adult worship songs too quickly.
Score Points with Parents
Effective junior high ministry cannot be done without the support of parents. Junior high guru Kurt Johnston wrote, "…it really doesn't matter who you are or what you can do. As a seasoned junior high youth worker, I can tell you that effective junior high ministry boils down to two things: The sovereignty of God and the support of parents." Here are a few tips that will go a long way with parents.