I love working with middle schoolers. It was a surprise to me, too. Tweens, preteens, late elementary—whatever you call them, they are a bit of an enigma. For most of us, the time when we were growing out of our child-selves and into our emerging teen-selves was awkward and confusing. The most important thing kids can experience during this time is a feeling of belonging and being part of something bigger than themselves.
Kids at church are no different. Engaging middle school students in the congregation can be challenging. I find there are some basic tenets in middle school ministry. The first one is to help tweens find places to be the older leaders. They are just realizing how long it will be until they are the senior high school kids in charge. There is a lot of time from being a preteen to being of driving age. The middle schoolers at our church are a great source of help as teacher assistants, preschool helpers, and leaders for the youngest groups. They also are great at tasks like keeping the pews looking neat and tidy and acting as greeters for Sunday morning.
The second rule is to remember they are still children, too. They like to play and have fun. If the adults with them will join in, even better. We play a lot of games during our middle school activities that are messy. Anything that can involve water play or shaving cream can be a rollicking time for tweens. I try to pick games that are meant to be less about physical skill and more about team-building.
The last thing I try to remember is to ask them how they’d like to be part of the church. I am always surprised by the requests that they so easily make: can they read from scripture, can they write a prayer, can they offer a prelude on their instrument, can they help with the nursery, can they come and do some work around the church with their friends on a Saturday? They are observant and know ways that they can be helpful.
Being a kid is a great job. Growing out of that part of life toward teen years is a wonderful time to include tweens in new ways in the life of the church.