Challenging a Broad Spectrum of Students
One of the things I love most about church is that it’s a place where people from different backgrounds can come together and be the kingdom of God.
But it can be incredibly hard to teach a room full of students who are on different playing fields—not just in terms of how long they’ve been believers but also in terms of what they believe.
I lead the confirmation program at our church. If you don’t know what confirmation is, it’s essentially a discipleship and membership class that many denominations use with their teenagers. In my church, it’s a year-long process for seventh graders. Each year we have around 65 students come into the program from all over the place, and many of them have never stepped foot into our church (or any church) up until this point.
Part of confirmation is to teach students about where their Christian heritage comes from, and since we’re Methodist, we talk a little bit about what that means, too. The tension is that 99% of our students come into the program without ever having heard of John Wesley. But the remaining 1% love Wesley, breathe Wesley, and may even be named after Wesley.
This creates an extremely challenging environment to teach in. Even if these seventh graders come in with a good biblical framework from being in my class in fifth and sixth grade, most come in not ever having opened a Bible.
A few weeks ago, we taught on communion. Half of our students didn’t know what communion was, another group had a very high view of communion, and another group thought communion was when the church served snacks. I’m going to use this communion class as my example as I walk you through how to challenge a broad spectrum of believers in youth ministry.
Focus on the Fundamentals
When preparing to teach, I ask myself, What’s the one thing I want students to leave knowing, whether they’ve never taken communion before or they’ve taken it a million times? When you focus your teaching down to a key fundamental, you protect a new believer from being overwhelmed by a bunch of little facts, and you help a student who already knows the facts understand the key to why it all matters. For the communion class, I teach that “communion is to remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us.”
Rely on Small Groups
We rely on small groups to take the key fundamental point for each lesson to the next level. When students hear a message, they can only process what they hear, but in small groups they can ask questions to help them engage with what they’ve learned. To help facilitate this, we create small group guides with questions and activities for groups that may need them.
Provide Ways for Students to Explore on Their Own
Some students will want to do something tangible. With each lesson or series, we give students a way to practice on their own what they’ve learned. This might mean researching how other denominations do communion, memorizing a specific verse to earn a Jolly Rancher the following week, interviewing family members about their first experiences with communion, or even learning the words to use so they can serve communion to their household. Some will do it and some won’t, but this way we’ve given them an opportunity to own it.
Develop Student Leaders
Developing student leaders is one of the trickiest parts of student ministry, but it’s also one of the most rewarding. Each of our confirmation small groups has one or two student leaders who help our small group leaders. How much they do varies based on their personality and style. This provides students an opportunity to learn from one another, which takes them a lot further than when they learn from an adult.
These are some of the ways we challenge our wide variety of students.
What are some ways that might work for your environment?
HEATHER is a Junior High Director in Indianapolis, working with a talented and diverse team of staff and volunteers. Heather has the privilege of writing on various youth ministry platforms across the interwebs, but you can find her blogging about her life in ministry over at HEATHERLEACAMPBELL.ME.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.