You work with middle schoolers… are you crazy? Possibly… but it’s worth it.
Middle schoolers today are faced with far more adult-like decisions than ever before. That’s what makes the WyldLife ministry so meaningful and critical. Having caring adult volunteers speaking God’s truth into their life at a younger age is so meaningful. They aren’t quite as hardened as high schoolers, and hopefully haven’t gotten sucked into life choices that can make it difficult to change courses from a human perspective.
WyldLife looks different across the ministry. We currently have two clubs in our area. One meets one Saturday a month, the other meets roughly every other Tuesday. Regardless of your particular schedule, here are a couple of strategies that we’ve found effective over the years, not just for club night, but for ministry as a whole. Some could be painfully obvious, but hopefully there is a helpful nugget for you in there somewhere.
Invest in the school – figure out a way for staff and/or volunteers to give back to the school. You’re much more likely to have access to the school when you are seen as investing in what is already going on there, and not just WyldLife. Yesterday I got to run the high jump at the middle school track meet. It’s kind of like herding cats and seeing which one can jump the highest, but it’s a great opportunity to support the kids and the school. For quite some time our middle school has served popcorn on Friday’s as an incentive for positive behavior. Look for an opportunity like that to be in the school and serving, seeing kids, and being seen.
Serve through other organizations – does your school have lunch time mentoring program? What a great opportunity to be in the school, invest in the life of one kid and be available for other kids to ask you when WyldLife is! Are there clubs going on which you might be considered an expert, at least in the eyes of a middle schooler? Serve through these groups and it’s one more opportunity to get to know kids.
Communicate well – making sure parents are in the loop is critical in getting middle schoolers to WyldLife functions. Figure out as many options you can in order to get the word out. Facebook might not be the coolest of options for middle schoolers, but it’s pretty effective for parents. The Young Life provided Emma email tool is a great way to send sharp looking emails to communicate about upcoming clubs, fundraisers, and camp. We send one out about a week before each WyldLife and then a text message reminder either the night before or right after school on club day.
Be alert for schedule conflicts – Be aware of what else is going on in the community. If there is a varsity home basketball game on the night WyldLife is scheduled, consider moving club to a different week, same thing for middle school band or choir concerts, have club the next week. You can’t avoid every conflict, but be mindful of those big ones. This awareness allows kids to not miss club and it shows the parents and school that you care about all the activities kids are involved in. Having those scheduling variances makes communication more critical, but it’s worth it.
Traditions – there are some club activities worth doing every year. Kids remember them and they look forward to them each year. Right after Easter we’ll do a peep launch. Take a water balloon launcher and a pile of discount peeps purchased the morning after Easter. Nothing fancy. You launch them, they’ll catch them. And eat them. If you’re careful you can let kids launch as well. Around Thanksgiving we have a musical babyfood roulette Thanksgiving feast. Everyone in a circle, pass around an object while the music is playing. Whenever the music stops the lucky middle schooler gets to roll a dice to determine which baby food goodness they get to enjoy. Make at least one of them yummy! Don’t allow double dipping!
Mostly mixers – We’ve found that most middle schoolers want to be part of every game, so pretty much every game is something where everyone is participating. We’ll do an occasional upfront game, but aim for as much full participation as possible.
Talk Transition – we have steered away from singing songs at WyldLife club. I’m sure it’s doable, but it is a lot different singing in a crowd of 400 at Creekside vs a smaller group in a living room. But how do you transition from the craziness of games to getting them settled down for the message? We’ve been using short videos to get them sitting down, looking forward, and calming down a bit before the message. It can be a challenge to find short, appropriate and either funny or encouraging videos, but www.wimp.com and http://www.videosforstudentministry.com are good options. Be sure to download the video and not rely on the internet to be working at that particular moment.
Phone basket – this last one might be a bit controversial, but something to think about. We have a basket that we bring out at the start of club and all the middle schoolers put their phone in it. After club, we have a drawing and select a few phones out for prizes. Sometimes it is candy, or a gift card, or camp scholarship money. On one hand, kids aren’t posting on social media about the fun they are having at club, but they are more fully engaged in what is happening in the room, especially during the message. Surprisingly enough, the kids don’t complain about giving up their phone. It likely takes away a little social pressure.
There are a lot of things I wish we were better at, but these have been some helpful strategies over the years.