The greatest mistake youth workers make when ministering to students, specifically middle schoolers, is that simply talk at them, telling them what they need to know and what they need to do.
This mistake makes sense. We love Jesus deeply and we got into this business because we want, more than anything, for young people to fall in love with Jesus as well. So, week after week, month after month, we try our best to compel them to love Jesus the way we do.
But here is what we forget. When we were 12 we didn't love Jesus the way we do now.
When we were 12 we were developing our faith and our heart for Jesus. We did have some experiences in middle and high school that contributed to our faith and put us on the path to know and love Jesus in the deep an intimate way we do now as adults.
Even math nerds get this. People who majored in math and are math teachers now, don't cram down calculus on middle schoolers. They teach them how to do math in a developmentally appropriate way so down the road they may come to love math like the people in their field do. (That didn't work for me) The same is true for baseball. When my kids were little, they played little league. The entire goal was to get them to come back the next year. The passion of the coaches for baseball was evident, but teaching it in ways that made sense to 3rd graders, 5th graders, and 8th graders is all very different.
In the exact same way, we need to not put our faith expectations on our students, especially middle school boys. They are just at the very beginning of this faith journey and wrestling with what it even means to have faith, let alone whether or not they are going to love Jesus with all their hearts.
With that in mind, why not set up your middle school, guys, small group with this perspective. Here are 5 ways to get your boys to share, make it a win, and make it a place they want to come back to week after week.
1) Bring Candy: This is blatant bribery, but food matters, and candy matters too. Starbursts that don't melt and you can control is a great way to build community or leverage for good behavior and /or sharing.
2) Share in a circle: Everyone wants conversations to happen naturally, but at this age, they don't. So, eliminate the awkwardness and have them sit in a circle and take turns going around the circle sharing their answers.
3) Ask follow up questions: The answers they give will be short. So teach the person who will share next to ask a follow-up question before they answer. Their future wives will thank you.
4) Translate the questions: Middle school boys are at the very beginning of thinking abstractly. Most youth workers write questions for junior girls. So the questions you have gotten are 10 miles above their head. You will need to translate the questions into something more simple and concrete.
5) Share funny youtube videos: Your small group will always end first. Instead of using that time for a second sermon, why not simply ask them to share funny videos, vines, or funny things that happened at school. Boys love joking around, so get through the "serious" stuff, and then embrace their developmental moment and laugh.
These tricks work for me, and I hope they work for you! Good Luck!