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Some Tips for WyldLife leaders

Some Tips for WyldLife leaders





WyldLife Tips

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 and 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.  

The Heart of a Middle School Kid

The Heart of a Middle School Kid

If you mention to folks that you work with middle school kids, you will likely get one of two responses, a groan, or an assumption that you are a saint.   As Wydlife folks, we get a bad rap as the JV of Yl, or the arm pit of the mission, and largely it is because of the company that we keep.  Our culture does not take middle school kids seriously.  Here are some words to describe middle school kids – impossible, immature, no filter, talks over everyone, rude, not just self-centered but self-absorbed, loud, obnoxious.


Our culture does not take middle school kids seriously, but we do.  As leaders, we know that if we take the heart of a middle kid seriously they will give us great influence over their lives!  Here are some insights into taking the heart of a middle school kid seriously:


We are learning more and more that we need to take their brains seriously – they are not crazy, and it’s not just a bunch of wacky hormones making them act like that. They are not just immature adult brains, they are actually wired for a very important task –breaking away, becoming independent, leaving home.  And leaving home takes a lot of openness and risk, and this is exactly what their brains are wired for.  They are wired for quick learning, openness and risk.  The prefrontal cortex is under a huge remodel and has not fully developed yet.  This part of the brain is like a governor that helps pull all the other parts together, but in young adolescence it is still in process, so many kids do not yet have great capacity to be reflective or insightful.  One brain researcher * claims it is the most dangerous times in our lives.  We take their brains seriously when we aim tokeep our message and ministry right now, right here, right about them.  In many ways, they can’t relate to us and our experiences, but since we have journeyed through that season, we can relate them.  Remember your own experience of middle school, and use it to understand.  While a lot has changed, each and every one of us still has to journey through puberty, that season where you feel like your wear your nerve endings on the outside of your skin and what everyone else thinks REALLY DOES MATTER!    Don’t ask them to relate to you, work to relate to them, take them as they are.

Here is another important aspect of their brains, they are keeping what they need, and shedding what they don’t.  What doesn’t get repeated or used gets sifted out.  We don’t want the gospel, the love story of Jesus to be sifted out.  We want to massage it in, with repetition, with relationship.  It is an incredibly fertile, open and important season to be in the life of middle school kids.  You can take a 13 year old who says they are an atheist to camp, and they will take in what they hear and may leave considering or even following Jesus.  That won't happen with a 17 year old.

Wealso need to take their faith journey seriously.  They are at best in a "parade" * phase of faith, where faith is associated with the group/club, or family, and we are trying to tee them up for individual faith which for some may come a few years later.  Give them a solid parade to take part in, our club, our campaigners, our friendships, even and especially our family.  So many kids, so many kids, so many kids are growing up with very little family or parent support; Our families can be a witness.  Let them experience our families as part of the parade of faith for their lives.

Dream up ways as a team to take middle school kids seriously.  If you take a ms kid seriously, they will give you great influence in their lives.  They are more open than at any other time in their life.  They are once in a lifetime!

-Julie Gertenrich

*referenced in this article Brainstorm byDan Siegel and Evangelization and Justice by John Walsh