General Ministry

Youth workers work hard, and I have so much respect for the ones that run two different nights for Junior Highs and High School students. In many ways its a necessary part of ministry as running a program for sixth grade to twelfth grade is challenging if not impossible to effectively engage students in such a diverse age range. We felt that same challenge in our group but did not have the resources to go to a multi-gather format. So after much thought and prayer we decided to completely overhaul our youth night to help alleviate many of the challenges we had been seeing in years past. So here is what we did, why we did it, what is working and what needs tweaking 8 months in.

Why did we change things?

For the past few years we have been facing real challenge of students making the leap from our kids program to high school. They were going from being the big fish in the pond to feeling like minnows in our student ministry and the intimidation was a big factor. Our youth night has been Thursday nights from 7:30-9:30 for 10 years now and for some parents of younger students this is a deal breaker, it was too late for their kids and up until this point our response was simply sorry.We also recognized like many of you, that resources were finite at the church and running a two night program would be a strain on our volunteers, worship teams, and myself and my family. The group was out-growing our facility and having 25 small groups trying to find a place to connect and focus was getting more and more difficult. Changes needed to happen, we needed to split the groups but going to two nights just wasn’t going to work, so here is what we did:

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The Good: We are now 8 months in and things are going really well and here are a few of the highlights:

  • Early start time for Jr’s has meant that there is much less fear of coming to Youth. Young students arrive with their peers and when they join the older students for Worship they come in a wave of junior high energy.
  • Early end time has made grade six and seven parents more willing to send their kids and those students bring friends.
  • Two teaching times means that we can talk about issues differently and at a level that is challenging to both groups and has us no longer teaching to the middle or losing the young students with a high school level sermon
  • Having a game for the junior high students gets their energy out and means that we don’t have to have a game during the main session all the time which the high school students appreciate.
  • Running small groups at two separate times it allows us to effectively double the usable space in the building by using the rooms twice.
  • The High School-only hang out time before has matured that time and our high school students are showing up earlier and earlier each week just to connect.
  • We have added a half time position to cover off the Jr High coordinating but have maintained the same worship teams, volunteers and our costs have not changed either.
  • Grade 6 is a flex year where families can try youth and if it its too much their students can stay in kidsmin for one more year. Its a safety net that was never there before and it works.
  • Students now will attend youth group on the same night for 7 years and it makes it easier to prioritize instead of switching between Jr/Sr High night.

The Challenges: It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing but we have learned a lot this year:

  • Having such a concise and regimented schedule means that anything that runs long, or a technical glitch and keep the train from hitting the stations on time which can be challenging for people like me.
  • Our 30 minute worship set can keep us from being sensitive to the Holy Spirit and while early in the year we were quite rigid about the schedule, we have learned to be attentive and embrace moments that may extend the worship time and cut into small groups.
  • Grade 8’s are funny. The outline has grade 8 being a flex year and this year our grade 8’s are old for their age and dealing with challenging issues so having them with grade 6’s is not something they always want to do. We moved them up after spring break to High School for which they were thankful.
  • Having two leaders meetings has proven challenging and the frequency and quality of the preservice meet ups has diminished throughout the year
  • Writing two versions of the same sermon or two unique talks has been more work than we bargained for, but we have finally found a groove in that department.
  • Parents with students in both groups were vocal about the annoyance of coming to the church twice but with us offering activities before and after those concerns have diminished.

I am so thankful that we chose to do it this way and would make the same choice again to do it.Have you tried something similar? Do you have a question about it? Post a comment and lets chat about it! 

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  • Kraig Bishop says:

    wow…that’s pretty intense….and pretty awesome. I have to say the challenges sure seem minor in comparison to the good. I’m gonna tuck this post away for future guidance! Thanks!

  • Mike Lovato says:

    We made a similar switch this January. Here’s ours:
    6:00 everyone hang out
    6:20 announcements for both groups
    6:25 jr high games/high school teaching
    7:00 worship all together
    7:30 high school games/jr high teaching
    8:00 dismiss

    It’s worked well but with some of the challenges you mentioned. It’s way more games than we’ve done before but it seems to work. I’m always looking for what others are doing so I can make tweaks.

  • Jeff Hanson says:

    I am 1 week out from making a huge shift like this one. This comes at a great time to see what is working for others. We are doing a similar format where small groups are going on during the other service. For right now, we are not going to be doing a worship set in the Jr. High service. I am still trying to figure out other ways to accomplish engaging in worship other than the traditional band and music.

  • Justin Humphreys says:


    I also made this change when I was at a church in Texas back in 2008. Like you it was the best option available to us and help energize the students. Once we started growing we hired a Junior High pastor and began to separate the groups again, but keeping them on the same night.

    The biggest challenge I faced was being able to evaluate my Junior High Small Groups because they were happening while I was teaching High School. Also, I was unable to help with any discipline or special circumstances that my junior high team faced. Basically, about half way through the second year I was hearing from my junior high team often that they felt alone and under appreciated. Which was embarrassing for me because I never meant for that to happen. This was the catalyst for us hiring a second Pastor.

    Our schedule looked like this:

    • 6:15 Prayer (Middle School Leaders)
    • 6:30 Middle School lesson in auditorium
    7:00 Prayer (High School Leaders)
    • 7:05 Worship for Middle School and High School
    • 7:20 Middle School breaks out into small groups/ High School Lesson
    • 7:50 High School breaks into small groups
    • 8:00 Middle School dismissed
    • 8:30 High School dismissed

    • Geoff Stewart says:

      Justin I completely agree about the discipline issue and I have been pulled out of the teaching time in our high school group a few times to come deal with students or challenges. At first it was hard for our leaders but the cream has risen to the top and we have a group that for the most part takes on issues as they arise.

      thanks for posting this comment, good insights.

  • Marc says:

    At the last church I served I split the group even though we were small. I found that I made my message for Middle School students and then took liberty to expound on any point during the high school message. It was a lot of work that I had not anticipated, I was wore out after teaching twice, but felt the high school group got a deeper and more sound message by me doing it twice and not having the Middle Schoolers in there to enhance my ADD. We even had parents sign up to bring snacks each week to curb the appetite and help serve their students. Our schedule looked like this…
    6:00 – games
    6:30 – announcements/worship
    6:50 – HS to Small Groups / MS to Large Group
    7:20 – snack
    7:25 – HS to Large Group / MS to Small Groups
    8:00 – Go Home!

    I am now at a new church and want to split the group again. I have fewer volunteers right now than I really need and we would have to do different nights because the HS students serve in AWANA on Wednesday nights. So I am thinking Wed. – MS (capitalize on those AWANA kids that are used to coming, but are now too old) and Thurs. – HS so that they can continue to serve on Wed.

    Still a lot of praying, thinking, and talking to do.

    • Geoff Stewart says:

      Marc – thanks for this post, I love the Go Home part, or as I like to shout “What are you still doing here, DON’T YOUR FAMILIES LOVE YOU?” (kidding)

      I think it would challenging with less leaders for sure. The choice of two nights is a game changer and can work well or be challenging. Too – thanks for your thoughts.

  • Michael Stambaugh says:

    Great thoughts! Last night was our last weekly Wednesday night until next fall and my mind is already thinking and dreaming what that should look like. Geoff your post was timely as I have been thinking about making this move in rural Big Timber, Montana where on Wednesday nights we have 7th through 12th grade all in one group. Every three weeks we have age and sender specific small groups for the night when we split up Jr. High and High School.
    After conversations with high school students and with several adult leaders, I am leaning toward a similar structure where Jr. High and High School are split up for teaching and small groups but combined for worship. Shooting the gap between that wide age group is not enough. High school students want more depth and the glazed look of Jr. High students communicates the teaching does not connect with them.
    Our Wednesday night is from 6:00 – 8:00 pm and begins with a meal for the first half hour. So this cuts down our time considerably compared to your time, but I am thinking about extending the time.
    A couple questions:
    1. How soon before this change did you communicate the change? And specifically how did you communicate the change?
    2. Do you ever teach on two different topics to the two groups, or is your teaching similar for each group?
    3. Have you ever used a video teaching for one group while you taught the other group?
    4. What is your state of mind/spirit at the end of that long night?

  • brandi says:

    Oh man, I really appreciate this post and the comments. We have been trying to figure out how to get more space between the middle and high school groups without splitting completely. Great ideas here!

  • Thanks for this post! I have been at my new church for a little more than 2 weeks. The schedule right now is similar. Here is the breakdown:

    5:30pm – High school worship/teaching in Venue
    5:30pm – Middle School small groups in main building
    6:20 – HS transitions to small groups
    6:20 MS transitions to Venue for worship
    6:30 Middle school games/worship/teaching
    6:30 HS small groups
    7:30 – Finish both.

    What I have found is that we have a tight window. It is very fast and I miss out on seeing small group at all. I like having it on the same night but the Middle school leaders have to teach students before they even hear the message! I’m wanting to make changes but I’m taking my time and thinking/praying through it.

    Any input is appreciated!

  • I think I might take the plunge this fall, I have been wanting to do this for a while now.

    One question, what does your small group time look like Geoff?
    Are they just follow up questions from your sermon, or is it something entirely different?

    • Geoff Stewart says:

      Hi Natasha! I hope you are well. We are currently using the Live Curriculum and base all our sermons off the curric series so that the questions are already there. We use Jr High and High School curric so we do differnt talks for both sometimes or sometimes do the series together. Probably leaning towards doing all the series the same next year for both groups.


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  • Hank says:

    I think it is important to have JH and SH divided if possible, but it is not the end of the world if they are not divided. I lead a group of 40 teens 6th-12th grade. The message time and singing time was for everyone, but small groups were divided by age and gender. I didn’t have a problem communicating a message to all grade levels. What I often saw was the application was different among different age groups. So if we are talking about temptation, the JH groups may have a totally different conversation than the SH groups. I don’t get why you can’t connect a message to both groups. The senior Pastor often has to connect his message to ages 10-100. I would have JH night and SH nights and like I said the small groups were very important for application, spiritual growth, and accountability, but at the time for us we needed to have both groups meet on Wednesday and we did not have the leadership or the facilities to accommodate two groups meeting in different places at the same time. Our teens loved the way we did it and I have seen many grow in their walk with God. Are there benefits to them being split? Of course there are. I think it is a good thing, but not necessarily a must for every church.

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