There is a level of frustration, irritation, and anger some people will never know unless they are a youth worker. Getting students to settle down, stop talking, and listen can be some of the most difficult tasks you will do in youth ministry. It can seem impossible to not be upstaged by the walls, the curtains, the ceiling, a fart, a noise, what they had for lunch that day, or simply just their own mind.
But communicating the Word of God is why we do youth ministry, so it is crucial we get students to stop talking and pay attention. But how?
Both my current middle school ministry, and the ministry at my last church were nuts! Like most middle schoolers the students are packed with energy, always doing something, can’t sit still, and going crazy all the time! The energy in the room is incredible, but when tons of middle schoolers pile in it is very easy for talking to be noticeable and distracting. However, they are always silent during the message. It is the craziest thing, so how do we do it? And what can you do to get students to stop talking and pay attention?
Do your part
Create engaging services and teaching times. If most of your students are losing interest and not engaged, it is probably time to change the program instead of trying to change their reaction to it. We need to give students something they can listen to and learn from without being bored out of their minds. This is something I thought I had down until I witnessed CIY’s Mix summer camp this year. They are EXCELLENT at creating engaging programing for middle schoolers that is fast paced, fun, funny, and drives home the point in multiple ways for multiple learning styles. I realized, from witnessing their excellence in this area, that there is always room for me to grow in this area and we should all be pushing to do our part in helping students pay attention by giving them something great to pay attention to.
Have high standards for your students. Expect them to behave and be able to sit and listen. Too often we do not expect enough from our students and that is why we never get it. Have standards you expect from them and hold them to those expectations. Sixth through twelfth graders should be more than capable of sitting still and quiet for 20-25 minutes listening to a message. Expect the right behavior from them.
Communicate your expectation often
I literally start every single message, every single week with these exact words…
“Hey if you are new, haven’t been here in a while, or just need a reminder… We love having fun here and we will go crazy, but this time right now is a time for you to sit, relax, listen, and hopefully learn. I need everyone to put their phones away, don’t talk to the person next to them, and give me the next 20 or so minutes of total respect”
You have to communicate your expectation to them every single week. I set the standard right away, so they have something to live up to. Sometimes I even say, “If you are sitting next to someone who is going to tempt you to talk go ahead and move now.” Set the expectation and drill it into them every week. There is never too much repetition or routine for middle schoolers when it comes to this area.
Use your leaders as crowd control. What makes students talking in the middle of your messages even more frustrating is when you are the one that has to deal with them from up front. Get your leaders to spread out and be the enforcers of the standard that you set. Unless your group is just way out of hand, the talkers are usually just a few individuals or a few groups. Assign your leaders to sit by or with those people.
You have set the standard of behavior so when students do not meet it you need to follow through on making them behave. Move them to another seat (or have a leader do it so it is not disrupting to the entire group), send them out of the room, or do something to follow through on their need to meet the standard you have set. I only had to do something like this 3 times in the last year. It is enough to remind students that it is a serious issue and they need to behave.
Both you and your leaders need to be intentional about building relationships with students because they are much more likely to respect you when they have a relationship with you. Once a relationship is formed students are more likely to behave and even police other students to behave on your behalf. Be intentional about getting to know students and building relationships.
I completely understand how difficult it can be to get students to stop talking and pay attention. But I hope that these tips we use to get our students to listen can help you to do the same.
– Todd Jones