Today’s podcast is all about the next generation and why we need to focus our concern on them. Joining us is Zach Matchett, the fifth and sixth grade pastor at Northview Church in Indiana. Zach came to Northview—one of the fastest growing churches in the country—five years ago and is on unSeminary today to discuss the quirks, the joys, and the significance of working with upper elementary and early middle school students. Welcome Zach! Let’s dive in:
- 5th & 6th grade is the onboarding ramp for student ministry. // This is the age group that cause churches to scratch their collective head with the question where do we put them? It’s a valid question, and one that must be considered carefully: Zach believe this is the most formative time, spiritually speaking, in our lifespan. These kids are at the age where they’re starting to tune out during the children’s ministry time but are too young to join the older youth group. Zach feels like it’s important to try to offer these students something different than the kids’ ministry, including specific programing tailored to their needs. Now Zach didn’t initiate this particular ministry—he inherited it. When he arrived at Northview, his team decided to repurpose a space that wasn’t being used during the worship service in order to provide a dedicated space to the fifth and sixth graders.
- Kids are getting older younger. // Zach poses a question many church leaders and volunteers ask: why are our older elementary kids/preteens totally checked out during kids ministry? He believes there are several contributing factors to this lack of engagement, running the gamut from cognitive and emotional changes all the way to social development since the very friendships the kids are forming are changing. (And let’s not forget about all of the hormonal changes!) Zach notes that kids in this age group begin to start thinking abstractly and not as concretely as they were before. These are their beginning steps of having their own unique faith expression.
- There’s a lot to learn about communicating with preteens. // Zach admits that he had plenty of student ministry experience before stepping into this role at Northview, but this is the youngest age group he’s ever worked with. He shares the story of how his wife pointed out the necessity and value of using a more accessible vocabulary with these students, and as he made changes, he saw that they needed small bites to chew. He talks about the THP (Take Home Point): during every message, he offers one point or idea that the kids need to commit to memory. After that, he asks them to consider the next step, which always takes place during the next week’s small group meeting. (He asks them to remember the THP and then explain why it was important.) At the end, they discuss how the THP helps them to live differently in the week ahead in order to provide the students with a chance for personal deeper reflection and connection.
- The church is only as safe as someone is brave enough to admit. // Zach maintains that our small groups should be the safest space to ask trying questions and to process ideas. He says that if our leaders are dialing that in, they will help these students build a solid foundation for their faith.
- Teenagers can be great small group leaders. // This is a season of life where these kids may respond better to someone closer in age with them and high school students can help build credibility, show up, and be there since they have the time, and can stay with them as a mentor through the years.
- Create a unique space. // Get with your team and your volunteers and consider what you can do for upper elementary/early middle school students. How can you change their programming, where they meet, or even ask different questions during Sunday school? Have a conversation about it, lean into, and see what God can do.
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Helpful Tech Tools // Sharepoint
Ministries Following // Ministry Boost
Influential Book // Caught In Between: Engage Your Preteens Before They Check Out by Dan Scott or Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Tim Keller
Influential Leader // Andy Stanley and Tim Keller
What you do for fun // disc golf, time with family
Thank You to This Episode’s Sponsor: Radical Mentoring