Middle school students are at a time in their life when everything about who they are is at a drastic change. Their bodies are doing a complete 360, they are entering into a world that they never have imagined in elementary school, and sometimes it seems like they just won’t shut up!
Middle school is whole new world. Many students have been in the same elementary building and have only known the students in their class, sometimes from kindergarten through 5th grade. In middle school, your class size can go from 30 to 300 in just a matter of months. As they walk the halls they encounter all types of peers ranging in various characters that come in all shapes and sizes. These years are also the three years where appearance is everything. Middle school students are constantly worried about how they look and what others are saying about their appearance and if they approve. Middle school students are exploring what it’s like to be sociable, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Middle school is also the time when parents will allow their child to go to the mall by themselves and hang with their friends. These three years are very crucial to earning their parents’ trust while hanging out with their friends. If this task is accomplished it earns them even more freedom in high school. These three years are all about building trust and friendships with people they encounter that could have an impact on them for the rest of their lives.
So where does the Church fit in to the ever so busy life of a middle schooler? Adolescents are extremely self-conscious and are seeking approval. Having an active youth minister that is able to build a meaningful relationship with them will help in this area. Also, this is the time where team sports are at its peak and many of us feel that sports holds precedence over Sunday worship. Because colleges have become very competitive and strict on choosing only the best for their programs, many parents will choose sports over church, but that’s not the end of the world. If many of the youth in your church play on Sundays, have youth activities on another day, and include activities that involve team work and communication. This is the time when youth thrive in sports and talking! Remember, Jesus’ ministry was not just on the Sabbath. Finally, early adolescents are interested in what is going on in the world. Having discussions on social issues will peak their interests.
The Church can play a major role in the lives of early adolescents, it’s just a matter of when and how will we take on the challenge in doing so. Just as much as the Church needs the youth to be the future, they need us as well. They are seeking for a connection with an adult other than their parents, attitudes and all.
Brandon Jones is the Lay Missioner for Youth and Family Development at the Free Church of St. John (Kensington) in Philadelphia.