Getting into local middle schools can be one of the hardest tasks for a youth pastor. However, it can be done! So, be encouraged friends; there are different routes that you can take to engage your local middle school.
Engaging your local middle schools begins with solid networking. As you will see, you need sponsors that are already involved within the schools in order to be invited in.
People that can vouch for your character are very important!
One of my professors would call these people “gatekeepers”. Gatekeepers are going to be the people who get you into the schools. The only way you will find gatekeepers is by networking. These gatekeepers may not be in your church. They may be in another church. I started up a First Priority at a local middle school recently. One of the women on staff at this school, also interviewed me for my ministerial position. Unfortunately, this is not the case for most. You must reach out to other churches in your area in order to find your gatekeeper, if one does not reside in your church. Call on your fellow youth pastors. After all, you are in this fight together!
Through the network that exists in my town, I was also able to find us a sponsor for our first priority. She is married to my good friend who is a fellow youth pastor just down the road! At my previous church I was able to join the high school’s School Improvement Council because of the network that was already established before my arrival.
Networking should be any pastor’s best friend!
BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE ADMINISTRATION! Spend time getting to know the people running the schools. Build genuine relationships with these important individuals. These will be the people who have the ability to help open doors. Once they know you and your agenda, they will be more likely to give you a “thumbs up.” Treat these guys with respect. Offer them a gift card to their favorite restaurant as a way to say “thank you.” Along the way, you may even be able to invest in their lives as a result!
Does your local middle school already have a FCA or First Priority. If you do not know what these two options are, please click the links and browse their websites. For both of these options you will need a school sponsor and students that are willing to head them up. Because of the different rules, laws, regulations, etc. these events need to be student lead and teacher sponsored. If your local middle schools already have these in place, then call and find out who is heading them up. Also, joining with your local FCA council can be very helpful. The schools should be able to provide you the information on location, times, and who the sponsors are for the classes. Contact these people!
So, what if my schools have neither one of these options? Personally my first step was to contact the Principal by phone and email. The principal was not good at responding to either. So, I asked if a parent of one of our students would like to go with me to talk to the principle. I asked another woman in our church, who knew a few folks on staff to join me as well.
There are a couple wins to this strategy:
1. It shows the expressed interest of the parent for this event to happen.
2. I brought someone with me who was established and could vouch for my character. The principal was open to us starting a first priority and we catered it to the times in which the principle said it would be okay.
If neither of these approaches is an option for you, then networking is going to be your best bet. Get other churches involved. This is important no matter what. This is where you find your gatekeepers and sponsors. This also will create an environment to where you can have students plug into churches that best connect with them. If we are honest, there are some students that we just won’t be able to reach.
My involvement in Released Time was some of the best time, during school hours, to spend with students. This is a way to directly teach the kids the Bible. (If you don’t know what Released Time is, click here) If a Released Time is already active in your area, then I highly encourage you to seek out who heads it up. For me, it was the Mid-Carolina Ministerial Association (which was interesting when you find one Baptist amongst a bunch of Lutherans, HA!). Again this is where networking is important, but your first step is to call your local school and see if it is already something that exists in your area.
If your schools open their doors during lunchtime, you need to take advantage of it. If you are having trouble getting in by yourself, then see about going to eat lunch with a student and their parent. That elevates the trust between you and their parent, and it means the world to a student (especially if you bring them Chick-Fil-A). When you eat lunch with your students, it makes an impression on their friends. You are being Christ to these students and the other students take notice! It’s a good thing to hear students say as you walk away, “yea, that was my youth pastor.”
These are just a few options that you can/should take advantage of in order to engage your local middle schools. Maybe you have some other avenues you take to impact your local schools!? We’d love to hear about them, so please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can share them with fellow youth workers!