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5 Tips to Help Middle Schoolers Grow in Their Faith

5 Tips to Help Middle Schoolers Grow in Their Faith

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Middle schoolers are INCREDIBLE people. Middle school is a once-in-a-lifetime experience in the life of a student. It may include some of the most awkward years of their life, but it also includes some of the most foundational years. When it comes to faith development in the life of a middle schooler, I’ve always used this analogy: it’s when the “concrete begins to settle.” What middle school students decide to do with their faith during these short years can often serve as that concrete foundation for the rest of their lives. I believe it’s middle school where students genuinely begin to own their faith.

So, as a youth worker, what are some practical things you can do to help these incredible people grow in their faith? 

  1. Train Leaders

This can be a daunting task, right? Because when you go to recruit middle school volunteers, how many people come running to be the first to sign up? Probably not many. But if you do have any people in your church who are drawn to middle school students, GET THEM AND KEEP THEM! 

As you train leaders, I’ve always found it best to give them appropriate age expectations upfront. Don’t let a new leader think leading 6th-grade boys will be like leading a college Bible study where you can spend the bulk of the time having a profound spiritual discussion. Why? Because the majority of middle school Bible study time will be keeping everyone alive! Just kidding…well, not entirely, but it is very different. Tell them upfront what it’s like to be in a room full of middle schoolers. If you have a middle school teacher in your church, find them and talk with them. Get their input and even ask them to join your volunteer team.

While we’re on this tip, let me offer a word of encouragement. Please don’t tell leaders that teaching middle schoolers is the same as teaching adults just with a watered-down lesson. I’ve heard it said before that watering down is weakening something. That’s not what we want to do with the Gospel. Instead, consider teaching leaders to break it down. It’s subtle, but there’s a big difference.  

  1. Teach Them Spiritual Disciplines

Remember, these are foundational years. These are the years you want to help teach students to own their faith. In our ministry, we spend a lot of time trying to teach our middle schoolers the basics. Help guide them not only to see the importance of God’s Word but how to spend time with it as well. This can be HUGE for their faith, and it can’t be a one-and-done goal. It’s ongoing. In large groups, small groups, during camps, and on mission trips, instill in them spiritual disciplines.

As you seek to do this, look to the future and work back. Ask yourself, “where do I want this 6th grader to be in 3 years when they leave middle school? What about in 6 years when they leave high school?” What you do now for their spiritual growth matters. At the end of the day, what students need the most is the Gospel. Not the new lights, best-sounding band, or the coolest youth room…just the Gospel.

  1. Partner with Parents

Compared to all the stages of student ministry, I think partnering with parents during middle school years is the most important. Why? Because most middle schoolers don’t have phones, they can’t drive, so they depend on their parents. Most parents probably don’t even know you’re there to come alongside them until you tell them and show it. We tell parents in our ministry every week that they are their kids' primary spiritual influencers. Now, it’s our job as youth workers to come alongside them and support and equip them as they do this. Partnering with parents can be challenging, but find some parents that already trust you, sit down with them, and start working on some plans. You might even look for ways to connect parents to serve in your youth group. 

  1. Keep Them Included in the Entire Church

Work hard not to let them get siloed. Work to make sure they aren’t excluded in the life of the church or viewed in a negative stereotype. This is one of my favorite parts of my job. I want to shine a light on these incredible people to anyone who will listen to me, and if people try to throw them under the bus because of a misunderstanding, I want to be the first to defend them. I know what people often say about middle schoolers, and when I hear that, I want to grab people by the shoulders and say, “These are God’s people, made in His image, and at one point in your life, this was YOU!” Look for ways to celebrate them in front of the whole church and let people know how God is working through them. When something great happens, let your Senior Pastor know and celebrate how God is working! 

  1. Transition Them Well

The transition from 5th to 6th grade is so important. You want your 5th graders to look forward to middle school years with you, so find ways to transition them that make them feel celebrated. For our ministry, we offer a Preview Night in the 2nd semester of a 5th grader's schedule. This gives them a chance to come to our youth group service, where they can preview what Wednesday nights could look like. We also offer a “Moving on UP” party right before the new school year starts. This is where we get all of our 5th graders together, celebrate them completing elementary school and kids ministry, and then recognize them moving on up into middle school. This is typically done at a pool party or something fun for students with their parents there. This also allows you to connect with the parents whose kids are moving into middle school. Now, if you celebrate the 5th graders moving into middle school, I’d encourage you to look for ways to celebrate your 8th graders moving into high school too. It may not look the same, but try to find ways and celebrate that transition! 

Middle schoolers are INCREDIBLE people! God loves them and can use them to do tremendous things, even in these years. You know that this is true. You know how God sees them and what He thinks of them. Now, your role is to help them understand that for themselves!

Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:

  • What are you doing to teach middle schoolers spiritual disciplines or how to take ownership of their faith?
  • What have you found is most helpful when trying to partner with parents of middle schoolers?

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