If you know anything about me or Kenny, you probably already know that we are big fans of having tons of fun. From the time our middle schoolers walk through the doors of our church, to the time they leave, we really want them to enjoy being there.
For our ministry, having fun isn’t just an afterthought. It’s a priority and a strategy.
But you know what? Sometimes I come across people who really don’t like this idea. As Reggie Joiner said recently, “I am shocked at how many people are bothered by children and student ministries having fun.”
I’m shocked too. And I’m also a little sad. Because when we fail to prioritize having fun at church, I’m convinced we miss out on something vital to the development of a middle schooler’s faith.
Yeah, it’s that serious.
1. FUN ENVIRONMENTS HELP MIDDLE SCHOOLERS SEE WHAT JESUS IS LIKE.
Having fun is a powerful expression and working-out of the joy and freedom and abundant life we find in Jesus. So having fun with our students isn’t trivial or irreverent or a waste of time. It’s sacred and holy and it makes Jesus smile. We’ve got to model this for our middle schoolers. As we create environments that are jam-packed with Jesus and amazing, hilarious, super fun memories… we’re teaching them that God is the God of whimsy and smiles and laughter and all things good, and that it’s a joy to follow Him. I don’t know about you, but I find that pretty compelling.
2. FUN ENVIRONMENTS CONNECT THEM TO A COMMUNITY.
We all know how important it is for middle schoolers to feel they belong. If we want to help middle schoolers build a strong community with their peers and trusted adults, then laughing, playing, sharing jokes, and making memories together are vital. So when our middle schoolers are sticking their feet in Jell-O, launching giant Angry Birds from a volleyball net together, or helping their blindfolded friend guess what mystery ingredient we put in their bowl of cereal… well, in the words of J.K. Rowling, “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other.”
3. FUN ENVIRONMENTS HELP THEM NOT TAKE THEMSELVES TOO SERIOUSLY.
Middle school has to be the most awkward time in all of human existence. Our students are plagued by insecurities and the need to be liked and accepted. But is it possible to simultaneously be having an insane amount of fun and also feel awkward and self-conscious? No. No, it’s not. When we manage to coax middle schoolers into having fun, we’re also coaxing them into letting down their defenses and forgetting, even if it’s just for a moment, about their insecurities and fears. It’s good for their hearts.
4. FUN ENVIRONMENTS CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR DISCIPLESHIP.
Trying to create fun environments for middle schoolers can be an interesting social experiment. Our middle school friends are cute little bundles of insecurity and immaturity. And, because of that, sometimes our super fun plans go up in smoke and the awesome environments we’ve tried to create… well, implode. Someone gets an attitude. A guy gets too aggressive. A girl gets insecure. Someone gets teased. A joke goes too far. It happens. Conflict happens. But you know what? That’s ok. Because when things get messy, we get the opportunity to coach them through it. We shouldn’t run from creating fun environments because we fear the conflict that might happen as a result. Let’s run toward the messiness, embrace it, and then leverage those moments for discipleship.
What do you think? How have you seen fun environments make a difference in the life and faith of a middle schooler?
About Elle Campbell
Elle is doing Middle School Ministry at The Chapel at CrossPoint in Buffalo, New York, where she focuses mostly on creating great small group environments and leading volunteers. She blogs about youth ministry stuff at ellecampbell.org and creates and shares original youth ministry resources at stuffyoucanuse.org. She is married to Kenny and loves coffee and making things and reading as many books as possible. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.