“Modern”, “Contemporary”, “Seeker”, “Emergent”, “Progressive”, “Organic”, “Missional”…. And the list goes on and on. The church for at least the 20 years of my being a youth pastor, and I am sure much longer than that has had buzzword. They use them to try to define the next big thing and where church is going? Everybody uses and over uses terms to try to explain and hopeful quantify the ongoing change that is happening inside American Christianity. I am not here to explain it, define it, or try to solve it, but I would like to suggest maybe…just maybe there might be a key to unlocking the kingdom calling, work, and future of the church. May I add my own buzz word: “Middle”!? As in phrases like “stuck in the middle”, “middle of something”, and “Middle School”??
Yep, I said it- “Middle School”, the ever overlook, underestimated, and sometime outright ignored group inside the church ranging from around 5th Grade (10 years old) to 9th Grade (15 years old). If you haven’t watched the news lately, picked up a paper, or looked online, there is a movement in our world. A movement of young people, before their teen years or into their early teen years doing some amazing things. This group of roughly 20 million (*US Census) strong is quietly inventing new things, creating technology, starting non-profits, and pushing cultural shifts. They are even refocusing and reshaping big brands and companies to spend 17 billion dollars on them as they in turn spend 43 billion dollars annually…yep that is a “B” for billion!! This group of media savvy young people spend 8-12 hours a day plugged into some form of media while the 78% of them that own a cellphone, almost half of which are “smart” devices continually communicate and connect to the world.
You can call them tween, pre-teen, Jr. High, young teens, but we are just going to call them “Middle School”, because the “middle” is where they are and quite honestly were we are as well. We are in the middle of a change in 1.) Thought 2.) Creativity 3.) Service 4.) Belief, and so are they. The middle school years are the microcosm of society and of the church, as well as a reflection of the future. They offer us the keys to unlocking the kingdom! The words that I used at the beginning of this describe all of who these young people are. They are in fact all of those things and more. They always have been; even back in the Biblical times (*middle schoolers: Mary, Disciples, David, etc....)
We rack our brains and debate trying to find out how to keep the church, the church. We bemoan Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore and seek to teach our graduating seniors how to have Sticky Faith. We call the youth ministry a failure and a Weed in the Church that has Divided family and faith. Could it be possible that our focus, while well intentioned and containing many valid truths, has not been targeting the right place. While ringing our hands quoting statistics about young adults leaving the faith and college becoming the death trap of faith, have we forgot about the middle school years where faith goes from being taught to caught. Do we not understand the important transition from concrete to abstract thought that happens during these years? We need to have an Understanding of Your Young Teens in our churches. The statistics are showing the shift in belief and point of choosing faith is no longer by age 18, it is now during middle school! This is the time we unlock what the kingdom needs-most strong and future forward....
(TO BE CONTINUED....in Part #2!)