Several years ago, I participated in a multi-generational mission trip to India. As our young students boldly shared before large groups of people there, they would commonly begin by saying, “I’d like to thank you guys for inviting us to come to your country.”
Unfortunately, since the English pronunciation of the word “cow” sounds quite similar to the Hindi pronunciation of the word “gaay”, what our audiences heard was, “I’d like to thank you cows for inviting us to come to your country.” It’s important to tailor your message to your audience! And we tried, but breaking American teenagers of the habit of using “guys” proved near impossible!
I recently received a text from a younger youth pastor whom I’ve coached, asking for advice in tailoring a message to middle school students. I love working with middle school students, but I know that for some people, middle school feels like a foreign country! But in the same way, understanding your audience and appreciating their culture will help you tailor a message that moves them. Here are four ways you can prepare and deliver a message that will MOVE middle schoolers:
YOU MOVE: There is virtually nothing static about a middle school student. There shouldn’t be anything static about your talk. Make sure that you are moving as you communicate with middle schoolers. Walk forward toward your audience, or from one side of the stage to the other; kneel or sit down to draw your audience’s attention to a new place on the stage; extend your arms to make a point. Movement doesn’t need to be unnatural in any way, and shouldn’t distract from your message. Done well, movement on the part of the speaker can help keep your middle school audience connected and focused.
THEY MOVE: Along the same lines, getting your audience to move in some form or fashion is effective as well. I may throw in a quick question with instructions to “stand up if you’ve ever _____” or ask the audience for a round of applause after a student has shared (clapping acts as a stimulus). Middle schoolers need to move. Giving them opportunity to do so within the context of listening can actually refocus and refine their attention.
BE MOVING: Be passionate about your subject. Middle school students want to hear your story as it relates to THE story (of God). As you share from the Scripture, make sure you talk about how God is transforming you. There is a fine line between being moving and seeking to manipulate… be truthful, be honest, but invite students to see the active movement of God in your life.
INVITE THEM TO A MOVEMENT: I believe the best way to put an exclamation mark on a good middle school message is to invite a student to action (movement). Give them something simple, practical and doable. Sometime this movement can be specific, like an invitation to “come to this service project,” but I believe the most effective movements are the ones the students initiate, after being inspired and invited to dream and to do!
As you get to know your audience, take some new risks in your talks. Put these four movements into action. Just don’t call them cows!