First UMC, Pearland Hosts “Middle School Mania”
Leaders working with students approaching the middle school years often spend time trying to think of the next “crazy thing” they could do to help create an environment where churched and unchurched students feel comfortable. One youth leader went as far as to create a game called the “Impossible Shot,” where students had one chance to throw a roll of toilet paper from the stage through a toilet seat hooked to the end of a pole in the back of the room. TAC Youth/Young Adult Ministries director says, “Having fun is integral to the discipleship process in middle school ministry because it brings down walls, makes for great memories and creates environments students will want to return to and ultimately hear more about Jesus.”
What’s the latest “fun” thing you’ve done with students? What fun element are you particularly proud of from your experience?
First UMC, Pearland created Middle School Mania 4 years ago when VBS Co-Directors Cynthia Dague and Karen Volpe were trying to figure out what to do with their sons that were too “old” for Vacation Bible School and too “young” to help or volunteer. MSM is focused mainly on service, by encouraging students to do a service project every day, whether it be on campus or near by. “Last year, students set up tables for the family night and also did some yard work for a church member unable to do it themselves,” shares Cynthia. Students also enjoy spending time in fellowship, getting to know each other and forming relationships.”
She adds, “We want the tweens to learn ways to be active Christians, and learn to grow in their faith…but still be middle schoolers and learn on their level.”
Pearland’s fifth Middle School Mania will take place June 23-27. According to the planning team, these five mornings are packed with fellowship, bible study, missions and lots of FUN games and activities. Adds Cynthia, “The curriculum is specifically designed for kids who have just completed the 5th or 6th grade. This year’s theme is Topics for Tweens … friends, peer pressure, self-image, bullying. Will we really talk about these things at church? YOU BET! Our God understands and cares about what middle schoolers deal with on a daily basis, and He gives great advice about them through His Word.”
First UMC Pearland has experienced “Mania” attendance ranging from 25-35 kids. One participant says, "Mania was more fun than VBS. I liked going to camp with kids just my age." Students fill out evaluations at the end of the week each year ranking what they liked best and least and critique everything from the topics of study to service projects, crafts, games and snacks. Adds Cynthia, “We have almost 100% participation for the entire week of the kids who register.”
Students typically leave campus once or twice during the week to do service projects such as yard work for a disabled couple, working at the community garden, trash clean up in neighborhoods around the church, prep for VBS family night, making cards for Seafarers mission or brown bag lunches for a homeless organization. They have also packed school supply bags for needy children overseas and hosted a free carwash taking donations for a specific cause.
“Another tip I might offer,” notes Cynthia, “is that we remain physically separate from the VBS kids. We do big kid crafts like tye-dye shirts, clocks, ceramic pot painting, and sand art. We do big snacks and sometimes the kids help make them - like homemade cookies or ice cream. We play Christian music, but don't have "music time" like at VBS, and we do not break up into separate classrooms, but do most activities as one large group and break up into smaller groups as needed. There is not much down time during this camp - it is high energy, go, go, go! “
Cost is $25 per child. Register online (fumcpearland.org) today. Contact Cynthia Dague for information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Consider these other “discussion starters” geared for middle school ministry
The curiosity of a child + their emerging adult brains = the potential for great discussion, so get a wide variety of objects like a rubber band, a crushed soda can, an empty cup, a domino, etc., and ask your students to choose an object that best symbolized their experience in middle school so far. This will give students an opportunity to connect their abstract emotions with a concrete object they know and understand. Then use the objects for a second topic: have them choose an object that best describes their relationship with their family, and then their relationship with God. Prepare for incredible answers.
At times it is challenging to get middle schoolers serious about the tasks at hand, but having hands on service opportunities such as Pearland UMC is planning, or discussions around physical objects can be helpful in maintaining focus. Perhaps play-doh or Legos can be used to have meaningful conversation. Pearland’s VBS leaders have discovered that creativity and middle school go hand in hand.