5 Lessons Learned from Launching Our Own Middle School Curriculum

Erin Ricca & Tanja Martin
Erin Ricca & Tanja Martin

I love the Family Ministry team at my church. They make me proud for a number of reasons … they’re creative, they pursue excellence, they are concerned with partnering with parents, and they take risks. This fall our team put together our first homegrown curriculum for middle schoolers called “ASK”—it’s all about helping kids open up and talk about what’s real in their lives. It was a smash hit with our students and we’re planning another series like this in the new year!

You can watch three of the videos here: Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3

Here are the discussion documents that our small group leaders used. [School] [Relationship] [Authority]

Today’s post is brought to you by Erin Ricca and Tanja Martin. They both serve in our Family Ministry and they do an incredible job in so many areas. I asked them to share what they learned through this process. I’m thankful for them and their leadership in our community—and I’m glad you’re getting a chance to learn from their experiences!

Ahh, middle school. The proof that we serve a very merciful God. Let’s face it, middle schoolers can be awkward and confusing and frustrating. They aren’t grown-ups, but they certainly don’t want to be associated with children who are clearly light years behind them in maturity. Parents are still the sole influencers, but they have to watch their kids start to struggle with their own ideas and sets of beliefs. It is only now, as a self-aware adult, that you realize middle school is where you started forming you. And that’s beautiful.

As middle school leaders we have the unique opportunity to be there as these kids go through their own metamorphosis into who they will eventually be. How cool is that? It is our job as mentors to speak into their lives, to echo what their parents teach them, and to guide them towards biblical truth. What we’d like to help you do is figure out a great way to provide a profound and relevant message to start that conversation between you and your middle school students. Here are five tips that seem to be working well for our middle school ministry:

  • Talk up // Knowing your audience is vital for a presentation to any group of people, isn’t it? Well, middle school is no different. So, here’s our tip: If your middle school program spans from sixth to eighth grade, focus your message to the eighth graders. No person, and especially no kid who’s desperately trying to figure out his or her sense of self, wants to be talked down to. So, if you have 12-year-olds with 14-year-olds, address the 14-year-olds. If you think the material you’re presenting is too mature for sixth graders, chances are it’s too much for eighth graders as well. If a student doesn’t understand something, it is an opportunity for a small group leader to start a great conversation.
  • Listen for material // Kids talk. You should listen. Ask them what’s important to them, what they’re worried about, and what’s on their minds. Kids want to be known and if you ask, they will talk. You can even talk about questions you have too! Kids love when you get personal (in an age-appropriate way, of course), and if you’re willing to be vulnerable and truthful with them, kids will open up as well.
  • Make the most of familiarity // Who would you be more likely to trust while watching a powerful and personal message: one of your small group leaders who you see weekly or a professional actor who’s paid to deliver the message? Use your leaders. They will have fun with it, we promise. Have them make the messages their own. Be conversational to encourage discussions with the students. And don’t be afraid to talk about hard stuff. Kids have plenty of questions … they are just waiting for you to bring them up.
  • Use your environment // Different camera angles, props and stimulating backgrounds can help enhance a message. Think exposed brick, a comfy couch … basically anything you see on HGTV. There is one thing to remember—while a great environment can help a message, a distracting environment can hurt it. If you use a prop to convey a point, get rid of it shortly after. Don’t use backgrounds that have too much going on. Don’t be afraid to stay on one camera angle while the speaker is making a point. One thing should remain ever present in your mind and that is the ultimate focus on the message.
  • Be passionate // The most important—and fulfilling—thing to remember is to be passionate! As a teacher, there’s no better feeling than to be excited about the material you’re presenting. So, have fun with it! And remember, the more passion you put into writing and delivering the message, the bigger the impact it will have on kids and their journeys with Jesus.


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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.