Anyone who has ever worked in middle school ministry has at one point asked the same question: Does every middle school youth have ADD?
Q: How many middle school youth does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Wanna go ride bikes? Oh look, something shiny!
To gain and maintain the attention of a single middle school youth is a challenge. To keep the attention of an entire small group of middle school youth can feel like a Herculean task. Not too long ago, I was observing a small group leader asking his group about ways they could pray at school. There were some great responses from the youth and then suddenly this young man said, “You can pray between classes or right before the bell.” And before the group leader knew it, they were talking about bells – NOT praying at school.
Keeping middle school youth on task isn’t just a dream. It can be a reality. The first thing to recognize is that the middle school brain is changing as much as the body. While they may be starting to think more abstractly, their attention span lasts for about 5-7 minutes. They need more active, hands-on learning at this stage of their development.
Want a more successful small group? Try these:
- Keep it simple. With such a short attention span, it’s a good idea to keep the amount of new information to a minimum. Don’t try to convey all the truths of the Catholic Church in one small group. Take the main point for the night and expand on it.
- Activities in the Edge Night Planning Guides are there to help the youth to have a hands-on approach to their faith. Use them to enhance the discussion and the exploration of what the topic is about. These activities help the youth to process information, organize it, and share it with their peers.
- Music works. Art has a profound way of helping us to tap into our emotions. Youth connect most readily with music at this age. Use music that ties into your discussion. Have the youth discuss music/songs that either exemplifies the point in a positive or negative way. The same could be done with works of art (paintings, sculptures, etc). The Church has an amazing collection of art that brings to life what a session is about and may help the youth to go deeper in their discussion. (NOTE: music/art used should be appropriate for the middle school age level. Make sure to listen to the song, print out the words, etc.)
- Boundaries are a good thing! With middle school youth, it is important to have consistent expectations and practices. Youth need to know the rules and guidelines for the group. Let the youth know that you expect them to come into small group and be ready for opening prayer. Establish procedures for your group. This is why it is recommended in Edge to keep the same small groups for an entire semester.
- When giving directions, go step-by-step. The middle school brain can only process a few steps at a time. Whatever the activity, provide 1-2 directions and then allow the youth to accomplish that. I was leading a small group through a collage-making activity. I instructed the youth to look through the magazines, cut out pictures that expressed their understanding of the session, and then glue them onto their paper in the shape of a cross. The youth started flipping through the pages of the magazine and began randomly cutting out photos – they had forgotten the objective of the activity. It taught me to slow down and explain things point-by-point.
It is possible to lead a successful small group of middle school youth. Learn to love them for who they are, right now. Pray for your small group everyday. The Holy Spirit can work wonders in helping you to guide the group and make the time together more productive!
Note: If you are attending the Life Teen Training Convention next month, come to my session on Monday, June 15, called “Edge: How to Develop Relationships with Middle School Kids.”