And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.
– Luke 6:17-19
At times, in working with middle school students, there will be crowds. I have experienced this myself on Friday nights, specifically during football season here in North Canton, Ohio. We started a little something we call Fifth Quarter. Very original, I know. The goal was to create a place for crowds – where all middle school students would be welcome, would have fun, and hear about Jesus. We got what was for us a crowd. I won’t list numbers, because they are dumb. It makes others feel bad, others feel good, and me wonder whether I matter. So I will just list it as a crowd. Because it was a crowd.
I believe crowds are critical for middle school ministry – there are moments you need to do things to allow for the crowd. Especially with middle school students. Middle schoolers are in that hive or herd mentality. They want to be where everyone else is at. If all their friends are there – they need to be there. It is a lot different than high school – high school can be content with the few. Middle schoolers seem to flock to what everyone else is doing. They follow that one around – picking up others – until there is a crowd.
Jesus had crowds. He did some things to attract crowds – not everyone understood who he was about (not even his “12” or “3” understood all the time) but he attracted crowds. Now I get this can turn into the attractional vs missional argument. All I am saying is that in looking at Jesus’ life, he attracted the crowds. It was from the crowds that he drew his 12, and then his 3. People saw there was something different and wanted to be a part of this – to see what this was all about. But not everyone stuck around (John 6).
When I do crowd gatherings – I focus on the crowd. I want them to hear about Jesus, to experience something greater than themselves, and to have a fun experience. To let them know they are loved, they are known by God, and there is something so much greater that they were created for. The desire is that they experience a love they have never felt before, a sense of belonging to a group of diverse individuals who have One in common. And I want them to have fun.
At our middle school ministry, we do crowds. What does that look like? We play with nerf guns. We have indoor slip n slides. We have hayrides. We have dance parties. We have food fights. Things that middle schoolers say “you did what? what is this place?” And at the center of it all – we talk about Jesus – that following Jesus doesn’t mean you don’t have fun. We invite them to move beyond the crowd. Some never will. And some will make that shift…