As a first-year teacher, one of the best things I said yes to was leading an extra-curricular group called “SHOUT.” This group consisted of student leaders who wanted to help others and better themselves in the process. Literally, that’s what SHOUT meant: Students Helping Others and Understanding Themselves.
That group was actually one of the many reasons I fell in love with middle schoolers. I was fascinated with their motivation to do good in their school, in their community, and in the world. Their energy for it gave me energy for it. In short, their service was contagious!
We did countless service projects in that group. From toy drives for cancer patients and food drives for local food pantries to efforts dedicated to raise awareness for issues in the world like poverty, hunger, and inequality, these students were determined and dedicated to make a difference.
Was it a lot of work to mobilize this group to help others and better understand themselves? Absolutely! Empowering middle schoolers to lead and serve requires extra coaching, extra planning, and extra energy.
You have to stay ahead of them.
You have to teach them social skills before the experience.
You have to prepare the serving host for your students.
You have to educate the middle schoolers about why the need exists in the first place.
You have to anticipate what they will throw at each other (and tell them why throwing it would be a bad idea).
And you have to think through how to help them process the experience so it will actually help them grow.
This small group of student leaders signed up to serve together over a period of two years, and I believe with everything in me that these service opportunities changed them for the better. That’s why, even though it’s hard work, I have never stopped pursuing opportunities like this for middle schoolers.
Mobilize Middle Schoolers Through Small Groups
The middle school phase can be an interesting one when it comes to serving. Even though middle schoolers have a reputation for being incredibly self-absorbed (which they definitely can be at times), they also are extremely cause-driven. They want to make a difference in the world. They just need someone to show them how and give them an opportunity to try. They want the independence and trust of helping in a big way, but they often need help and guidance to get there. And maintaining that balance can require a lot of work on you, their leader!
That’s why it’s so great to get middle schoolers to serve as a group. If you’ve created a structure of small groups, you’ve got the perfect way to help your middle schoolers serve already built in to your ministry. Because middle schoolers love to do things in groups. It’s an, “If they are doing it, I am doing it,” mentality out there! If they’re going to be in it, they’re going to be in it together. So, your best bet to get them to serve is to give them the chance to do with the people they know best: their small group.
And bonus: You’ve got small group leaders already in place to facilitate and make it happen
It’s important to expose your groups to the needs in the church, in their community, and in the world. In your context, that may look like…
community service projects,
neighborhood service projects,
city service projects,
serving opportunities within the church building,
partnering with the schools,
partnering with a community organization,
serving within their own ministry,
domestic service opportunities,
or even international service opportunities.
Any of these can happen alongside their peers, their parents, or their small group leaders (once we get out of this global pandemic, of course.)
Mobilize Students With Serving Opportunities
Middle schoolers need to see a world bigger than the world they are currently living in, and we as leaders get the chance to help them see (and experience) that. So, how can you mobilize your middle school small groups to serve together now?
Here are some things I have tried!
- Find out things they are passionate about already. Do all the research and planning for them so it makes saying “YES” that much easier.
- Ask a small group of middle schoolers to be part of planning and implementing a part of your programming each week.
- Find out if any of your students are involved in a service group at school or in an extracurricular club. Then, see if you can partner with them to serve.
- Encourage your small groups to plan, organize, and lead service projects on their own.
- Do the research and communication to gather all the necessary information needed to serve. Find out the details, the cost, the dress code, the call time, the parking, the paperwork, etc. Make it easy for people to serve by doing the grunt work ahead of time.
- Ask a small group to help you plan (and maybe even manage) your ministry’s social media account.
- Have a group organize and lead the first impression’s team.
- Meet with other departments inside the church building and ask where middle schoolers are welcome to serve (and ask what needs to happen for them to be able to serve in more places in the future!). Then, encourage middle schoolers to serve together as a small group in those specific areas.
Then, allow the small groups in your ministry to share their experiences publicly and celebrate what God is doing in and through them. There is something extremely powerful about a twelve-year-old standing in front of people (in person or virtually) wanting to raise awareness for a cause he or she is passionate about. It’s a chance for them to talk about a God how has moved them to serve in ways bigger than they might have imagined.
Mobilize Students With A Message
The truth is that serving changes people.
It authenticates faith.
It moves us toward each other.
And it moves us toward God.
Serving is part of a movement. It’s a bigger goal with a bigger purpose. And it’s a movement we want middle schoolers to join in together!
That’s why our XP3 Middle School curriculum team created a two-week series for your middle schoolers called Movement. It’s designed to help middle schoolers see how serving others is a part of the movement that Jesus started thousands of years ago. It’s part of the movement the church has carried on for hundreds of years.
When students make the decision to do something good for other people, they’re making a decision to join the movement. To do something right now as middle schoolers that can make a difference not just in the lives of others, but in their lives as well.
To do something, big or small, that helps someone else.
To do something they may even be scared to do because they know it will make an impact.
And that all starts with making the decision to serve.
Of course, doing something you don’t have to do and doing something you’re scared to do can be just that: scary. That’s why mobilizing your middle schoolers to do something together with their small group might just be what makes all the difference for them.
One last thing: Check out the Faith Skills Experience Kit for this serving series. It is an interactive devotional experience that compliments the series and frames the service experience by giving questions and activities to help students process their serving experience.
We can’t wait to hear the stories of how your middle schoolers serve together. We’d love for you to share them here: Orange Students: A Youth Ministry Community.