6th grade is a big year in the life of the average teenager. In addition to being introduced to middle school youth ministry, which can be world-shaking within itself, there are several large shifts that change everything in their young lives. In order to continue to provide relevant, meaningful ministry for middle schoolers, it is helpful to consider these shifts and what it might mean for our ministry, outside of the disproportionate increase of dabbing, Fortnite dance breaks, meme quotes and Axe body spray.
Independence. Middle school often takes youth out of a single-classroom structure into what is likely their first real taste of freedoms. Lockers, multiple classrooms, control over class electives, whether or not to shower after gym class…all of these things place life decisions in the hands of your youth. This shift is the beginning of the landslide of personal choices and responsibility that bottoms out as an adult many years later.
Ministry Implication: Consider focusing more on teaching outcomes of positive and negative choices. What are the consequences of our actions on a personal, emotional, physical and spiritual level? By instilling this mindset early, you can help your students grow and develop into disciples as well as great teens.
Worldliness. There is a new free exchange of ideas in middle school that 6th graders are walking right into, like a spiderweb across a trail. And with it, a black market exchange of swear words, drug and sex talk, inappropriate ways of using technology, and how to keep most of it hidden from parents and other adults. It’s whispered in gym locker rooms, shared on social media and scratched into bathroom stalls.
Ministry Implication: Consider teaching occasional lessons about self-control and behavior. Be extra vigilant during ministry times, listening for unwholesome comments or discussion, and help to encourage and create wholesome alternatives. And, if possible, work to educate parents on ways to be more present and aware of what is happening in the lives and cyperspace surrounding their teens.
Brain Stuff. The mental development at this time is astounding. Teens are beginning to form and experiment with their personalities and tastes. Abstract thought and connective reasoning is beginning to emerge. 6th graders are beginning to think, act and learn differently. Hormones are surging. Their brains will continue to change and grow more each year.
Ministry Implication: Consider how you teach. Are you supporting and nurturing inquiring minds? Have you taught self-study skills and where to find reliable answers? By changing how you teach, you can help your students become better and grasping abstract concepts like God or the Trinity, to ask thoughtful questions and to seek out good answers so that they continue to grow in their faith. This period can begin a faith renaissance in their lives if they are engaged instead of indoctrinated.
Middle Schoolers may be God’s most mysterious and enigmatic creation but understanding these major shifts and adjusting your ministry can begin to lay a strong foundation in your ministry and in their lives. Remember that working with middle schools means you are helping to create amazing teenagers and serving the kingdom of God in this exciting stage of life. Take the time to do it in the best way possible!