Have you ever pulled up to a busy crossroad or stoplight to find that something has happened? Maybe the power has gone out or there has been an accident? People are coming and going from every direction, but in the middle of all of it is stands someone redirecting and pointing people where they need to head. It all works if there are some understanding and instruction, otherwise, it quickly becomes a traffic jam.
Youth ministry in America has found itself at a similar crossroads, some of the power has gone out or there have been some accidents that are causing a tie-up in the traffic flow. Somehow in the journey of the average church between children’s ministry and youth ministry, a growing percentage of students are getting lost or heading off the wrong direction even before high school. Researching is showing us that only about 15% of people are accepting life-long faith after that age of 13.
We are missing the ministry in the “middle” of the crossroads at the end of children’s ministry and the beginning of high school ministry. While great resources are being written for both children’s ministry and the teen years, there is a continual blank space in the years in the “middle”, the “Middle Years”, 5th-9thgrade.
Businesses and advertisers have woken up to the importance of this group in recent years, shifting their money and marketing to steer these young people in the direction they want to them to go. While the church still stands at the end of the road heading into adulthood wondering why no one is showing up?
It is time that we in youth ministry and the church, stand in the “middle” of the crossroads of culture, faith, life, and the future to start directing traffic during the middle years of 5thto 9thgrade using these two streets.
Street #1: Creativity
These late childhood years and the beginning of the adolescent years is a time still sparked with childhood wonder. This is also a time of intense mental development and continued creativity. The middle years brain similar to that of developing toddlers has creative centers that are exploding.
This may seem difficult, especially for those seeking to stand in the gap between children’s ministry and high school ministry in a church setting, with limited resources or budget, here is some simple re-directions.
- “Allow Them to Draw Conclusions”, skipping the note-taking and allow them to draw an illustration of what you are teaching in a lesson
- “Get Graphic”, more than speaking at them or using a plain slide presentation use age-appropriate images, designs, and even silly pictures. Even better, ask students to create images or designs that you can use as your background.
- “Let them Play”, one of the most powerful ways to learn is by physically doing. Games are a physical way to “do”. Game are effective illustrations, interactions, and connections.
Street #2: Culture
While we may think of them as too young to take on big cultural issues or to be influenced by society, there they are playing in the dangerous traffic. Taking a look, we can even see middle years students are actually cultural influencers. The most popular show this year, Stranger Things, is a story about middle years kids, played by middle years actors. The winners of recently of America’s Got Talent…middle years age girls!
While the church often seems at odds with culture, pointing out God in culture and pointing students into the culture, will signal a new way for the future.
- “Screen Time”, using movie clips, TV show snippets, and even short viral videos in lessons can connect the culture of their world to the culture of their belief. Even beyond formal lesson times, posting short clip on social media with a question or verse continues the cultural dialog.
- “Talk About It”, what we don’t say, teaches as much as what we do teach. In age-appropriate ways, we need to talk about cultural issues. By not talking about them, we are teaching our young students that either the Bible doesn’t apply or that our faith does not hold up in the culture.
- “Create Culture”, by allowing your ministry to become a place to belong, become, and believe. The attraction of culture that is changing the direction of young people’s lives is because it is steering them to places where they can belong, have a chance to become something and shape their belief. Creating a culture based on the word of God and the people of God in your ministry instead will help them navigate the crossroads of these years and future.
Stand up and stand out in the middle of the traffic of the 5thto 9thgrade years. Students need people like you to give them Godly direction and instruction, as they try to navigate the present crossroads and get ready for the future roads ahead of them.