I was in a jr high idea lab at an awesome Youth Specialties convention in Anaheim last weekend. One of the questions brought up by the group had something to do with programming so the forum moderator gave me the mic to give some insight since I was the resident event and programming guy. Age appropriateness is a big issue when you talk with veteran Jr High youth workers. I don’t remember the question or my answer; but what I do remember is what Kurt Johnston said later in that session. We all need reminded from time to time. He basically reminded us all that at the end of the day, students are people too. They also have built in, “does this stink-o-meters”.
Much discussion is had over the attention span of students when it comes to Bible study, small group time, worship elements and teaching. Kurt made the insightful comment that he has students that can play a video game for six hours without wavering in attention. What he alluded to was what we miss sometimes. Students can be just like us in that we all have plenty of attention for the things that we are interested in. I think I could watch all 18 of next Spring “Lost” episodes straight! It has my attention. As I have attended workshops this fall and listened to youth workers I hear frustration when it comes to teaching students. “They just don’t have the attention span” I hear. One goal we had on the Believe tour for many years was to change something in the program flow every 7 minutes for the sake of age appropriateness. We have not completely abandoned that methodology; but now we first ask ourselves, “Can we make this interesting enough to hold for 20 minutes”.
The reality check here as that our students are actually more like us in this way than we care to admit. I do not have this figured out yet with the students I work with on every Wednesday night. It is a constant battle every week to engage students in a way that grabs their attention and holds it. One of the definitions of entertainment is: to grab and hold people’s attention. A scripture is brought to mind when I hear that from Matthew. When Jesus was finished with the Sermon on the Mount scripture says the people were astonished and amazed. Wow! How many small group leaders wish that their students would be astonished and amazed at the Word of God. Here are some of the questions our that the jr high department where I serve are using to help us present the Word of God in the engaging way it deserves:
• Does this message, worship set (insert whatever programming element in question here) engage me in a spiritual way?
• Does this (insert element) come across as relevant to my life/ my student’s lives?
• Am I genuinely excited about this material and what can happen as I encounter students tonight?
We don't have it all figured out yet. I know that the Word of God is alive, active, breathing and sharp. The question is not in weather or not the word of God is effective. It is. The missing link is sometimes in how we present the Word to our students. It is a struggle and as long as I am wrestling with it I know I am taking it seriously.