General Ministry
Josh Griffin

How, when, and why do you split middle school and high school?

Lots of different takes on this question – you can read one here and another one here. What do I think? As soon as possible.

There are just too many reasons you should divide your students into separate programs – developmentally a 13-year old kid and a 18-year old adult are worlds apart. While I like the idea of occasionally doing events or services together there I love the wins of programs that meet their needs specifically. I’m sure my colleagues here in this Slant will cover those well.

But there are a ton of excuses why we don’t want to make the jump to two programs! Here are a few common reasons people don’t and I hope a few ideas to help you fight through them:

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You’ll never have enough room
Dividing your youth group in half is going to create some logistical pressure right out of the gate. Don’t let that be an excuse! What about starting all together for half the service (music, announcements, etc) and diving up into smaller areas after that? If your church has multiple services – what about having junior high during one service time and and high school at the other? Or what if you did senior high in the middle of the week and junior high on Sunday mornings. Figuring this out is going to take work!

You’ll never have enough volunteers
Making a youth program specifically for junior high and high school is going to take more people. It is hard enough to find enough as it is! What if you asked your current leaders to find a second leader? What if you asked your students whom they would like as a leader? What if you asked a few of your children’s ministry workers who work with the older children to move up with them and into your new ministry? People will always be a challenge; don’t let that be an excuse to not start a separate program.

You’ll never have enough budget
Wait … you have a youth group budget? First, say a little prayer of thanks to God that you’ve even got that … and then start to think creatively about how to stretch the few dollars you’ve got. Do all of your events combined still so you save on reservations and can use better group discounts. Adapt resources you buy for high school. Find reliable, low-cost youth ministry tools that can help your youth ministry.

You’ll never have enough time
How am I supposed to prepare 2 different messages this week? Two programs? I’m just a volunteer myself – how can I take basically another youth group on myself? And that’s exactly the point … you can’t. You shouldn’t. Don’t! Give the leadership of one of the youth group halves to someone else. Groom that up and coming volunteer or intern from the Bible College down the road. Maybe even a student leader (preferably a senior) who is ready to take it on. You’ll need to increase your bandwidth to oversee them, but don’t make the mistake of feeling like you have to be the point person for both.

So when should you split? Set a target date for this fall and start working through some of the obstacles … it’ll totally be worth it.


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  • Kevin Patterson says:

    Wow this post was actually pretty convicting! I have a combined group and the Jr High kids tune out on Weds night during our large group message. I also have a dying Sunday night program, it’s been everything from a second small group time, to a student leader training, to now a discipleship class. No one wants to come but our best numbers were when it was a second worship service. I think at the start of summer we’re going to make it a separate JR high specific large group, and the High schoolers that show up (usually the student leaders anyway) are going to help run it. Wow this post was timely!

  • James says:

    I am starting a two year program to rebuild the youth/college at my church. I have youth (jr high and sr high) and college all in the same room! (talk about scary!). This year, I am focusing on building my jr high ministry so they can be separated from the sr high and college group. Then next year develop the sr high and build that group and the college ministry.

    Any suggestions on how to do this would be amazing!
    Thanks for these helpful tips also.

  • Trent Hardee says:

    Thanks for sharing these ideas! Its obvious that even though you guys are a “well oiled” large organization that have long surpassed these struggles years ago. You still remember and understand many of us are navigating unchartered waters in our experience and church culture. Previous youth leaders at my church have always combined the Jr and Sr groups, and we have always lost our 16+year old students. I attributed much of it to the new found freedom of drivers lic, but with experience I realize the larger problem is the patients of these older students just wear thin from Jr High immaturity.
    Because our numbers are forcing our hand we are working now to split up the groups asap and it is NOT easy… Training and scheduling are challenging. The conversations have always stopped when we get to, “who will teach” and “where are we meeting?’
    Thanks for the encouragement, and wisdom. We shall press on!

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