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A buzz of conversation suddenly reaches my ears during the middle of a worship set. At the completion of the song, I snag the microphone and ask, “Hey, can someone tell me the three times when we ask you not to talk and participate?” Immediately hands shoot up, and my behavioral expectations are parroted back to me.

There will be no talking and we ask that you participate when:

  • We are worshipping.
  • We are praying.
  • The main message is being shared.

That said, we resume our worship time and the buzz of noise has been put to rest.

Off and on throughout our gathering times, I see various sponsors (what we call our middle school ministry team) in our youth group put a hand on a shoulder or a finger to their lips to alert students that their behavior is being noted. My favorite scenario is watching a sponsor wiggle in and reposition themselves between two talking teens, all done with a smile. One key aspect of success is proximity. I encourage the sponsors to avoid congregating in the back and talking with one another. I love it when I see them sitting in and amongst the kids.

What’s the trick for this cooperation between kids and sponsors? Behavioral expectations. In our sponsor handbook, our behavioral expectations are laid out. I want the youth and sponsors to know the expectations from the start.

Here are two reasons why:

For Youth—We want our youth to feel safe. Coming into a new environment is a difficult thing, especially for teenagers. Giving clear expectations makes it easier for them to feel safe. They know what to do and what not to do.

For Adults—Stated expectations make it easier to administer discipline. The adults now know when they’re supposed to discipline.

Kurt Johnston, youth pastor at Saddleback Church in California, put together a great way for adults to discipline youth in large or small group settings. He calls it the three R’s of discipline.
1. Request—Ask the student to quiet down, pay attention, calm down, and so forth.
2. Reset—Move the student to a different area, or move yourself into their space.
3. Remove—Take the student out of the room, if necessary. It should be the last resort and done without anger or frustration, with the intent of talking with the student about what is going on.

Clear expectations give adults a clear direction of when and for what they are to do the 3 R’s. Expectations make our time spent together a positive experience.

So here are some questions to ponder: What expectations do you have for your ministry? Do your kids know them? Does your team know them?

Mark Eades is a middle school pastor at New Covenant Bible Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

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