I remember when I was a middle school student. I went to youth group because it was fun and there were a few cute girls there. That’s why everyone goes to youth group, right? I didn’t get a whole lot out of it when I was a Jr. high student.
I can pretty safely say that not a lot was done to influence my faith journey in middle school youth. I learned some things about the Bible and about the Christian faith, but nothing that really stuck. I don’t think I could give you any specifics now. Oh, and I learned how to play an instrument and joined the praise band. That was cool but, if I’m honest, I didn’t really do it to praise God…I did it to look hot for the aforementioned cute girls.
A lot of people would say that my youth leaders failed me. They focused on fun and making friends and didn’t seem to care about my Bible knowledge. Yeah, they taught me lessons about the Bible and about Jesus and all that stuff, but that’s not why I came to youth group. I came for the games (kick the can, dodgeball, and kickball were the best) and the girls. I should have been coming for Jesus, right?
I’ve been hearing a lot of people say recently that games don’t really have a place in youth group. People will leave your program with no grasp of what was taught – they’ll go home and tell their parents about the fun game they played instead of the awesome theological lesson that was taught. I understand this logic but, in my opinion, it’s dead wrong.
I didn’t go to youth group for the content, but I kept going. I went all through middle school and when I finally became a freshman and entered the high school group with the older kids – something clicked. I saw how the high schoolers seemed a bit more mature. They paid more attention in the lesson. In middle school we always waited for the speaker to say something that sounded sexual so we could giggle. Oh man…when our church chior sang “He Touched Me” we always died with laughter. But in high school youth if our youth pastor said, “God wants to be inside of you”, no one laughed. They seemed to take it seriously – so I started taking it seriously. I started listening to the message. Before long, one of them resonated with me and I decided I really wanted to live for Christ.
We still played games in high school youth group. The structure was almost identical. Game, Snack, Music, then Lesson. My leaders really poured into the Juniors and Seniors. This created kind of a trickle effect that went all the way down to the freshmen. We all listened because the upperclassmen set the tone. They told us that Jesus was first priority for them – games were second.
I look back now and see that my youth leaders had a strategy all along. Make youth group fun. If you make it fun, people will come. How many non-Christians are attracted to learning about some dead dude? How many non-Christians are attracted to cute girls and dodgeball, though?
I know that ideally our kids will be so excited about Jesus that their love for Him is what will attract new people – and that can definitely be the case – but it is rarely the truth in middle school youth group. Make youth group fun. As long as you invest in relationships, teach authentically, and build student leaders, God will take care of the rest.