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These Are the Best Practices of Youth Ministry: Part 1

This week we’re going to focus on some youth ministry best practices and hope that it generates some helpful conversation as you agree, disagree or have no opinion either way!

We want you to know upfront, that we don’t believe that there is a PERFECT way to do youth ministry. Our hope is that you prayerfully consider your context and determine what would and wouldn’t work in the ministry you lead.

BEST PRACTICE: Dividing up junior high and high school students.
There is simply too much difference between a 12-year-old 7th grader and an 18-year-old graduating senior—specifically, the developmental differences. Plus, on a practical note, keeping them separate gives the junior highers something to look forward to.

Having said all that, there are some incredible opportunities when you keep these groups together. The older students can disciple and model what younger students can become over the next few years.

• Do you have separate ministries for junior and senior high?
• Why or why not?
• What are other pros and cons of dividing up these age groups?
• What would happen if you made the switch?

BEST PRACTICE: Small groups being the primary method of discipleship and fellowship.
Most youth groups meet once a week for a large-group time of celebration, fun, and worship; and then either as part of that gathering, or at another time during the week, divide up into small groups for fellowship and discipleship. The overwhelming model has been for groups to work through a curriculum and also share life and Christian community together.

• Does your church have small groups, Sunday school, or just large group times?
• Why have you chosen this strategy?
• What is the weakness of this model?
• Sunday school used to be invincible; now it has largely been replaced by small groups. What’s next?

Get talking and we’ll take on a couple more tomorrow!

14 thoughts on “These Are the Best Practices of Youth Ministry: Part 1

  1. We keep ours together, with the purpose of utilizing senior youth to become examples and role models for the junior youth.

    I have been debating splitting up the groups, but in our small-town and small-church I would be responsible for running both groups, which would take up another evening, and if I split them into two groups I still believe I would want a third service/group to still have them all together, which would make for three evenings a week.

    I am debating whether the added busyness (as well as being committed three nights a week) would be too much for me, since I am in a very small town (2500 people) and would be running each program with a couple of volunteers.

    I’d love to hear others opinions on this, especially if you are in as small of a small community like me.

  2. Pastor Angel

    Hello group members,

    In our youth ministry, we have two separate classes 6,7 & 8 and 9-12th grades. We do this because we found that there was a vast difference in the maturity levels of middle school kids. Our older kids felt annoyed and didn’t seem to want to disciple the younger ones. If the younger kids asked what seemed to be silly questions, the older ones laughed instead of trying to teach or help them.

    we currently have a monthly teen fellowship for kids in grades 6-12 but we are able to divide the groups when playing games.

  3. Does your church have small groups, Sunday school, or just large group times?
    We use all three. Sunday school is for about 20 middle schoolers and High school has a different group of 20. Most Sunday nights, we begin with a large group of 45-50 mixed and break into high school groups/middle school groups. Middle school then divides into even smaller groups (Say, three groups of 8 or so), sometimes boy/girl and sometimes divided by hair color, height, birth month, eye color anything to mix them up and divide to conquer. Sometimes high school will divide up as well, but most of the time they like a group of 25-ish.

    Why have you chosen this strategy?
    Middle schoolers are CRAZY and lovable. It’s easier to tolerate them in smaller numbers and lengths of time.

    What is the weakness of this model?
    In my twelve years here as Youth Director I have had only two instances where a conversation was being carried on by high schoolers that was overheard by a middle schooler and was not appropriate for mixed ages. It could happen more often but, I think the relationships that evolve from this balanced method of ministry help make all of the youth more aware of the things they say.

    Sunday school used to be invincible; now it has largely been replaced by small groups. What’s next?
    Our Sunday School was getting dry with purchased curriculum and one grade, one lesson type ministry. We’ve since graduated to combined 6,7 and 8th grades and another class for high school making only two lessons necessary. Our Wednesday night activity is called Chat Room and has a main purpose of getting the youth to talk to each other building stronger bonds. High school and middle school meet separately. We ask everyone to share “Rags and Brags” about their past week and from their worries and celebrations we gain an angle from which to launch the Sunday morning Sunday school and evening youth gatherings. The sermon each Sunday is a base for the lessons and what concerns the youth from Wednesday guides the rest of the plan. A final lesson for Sunday school is e-mail to four teachers Friday and ten Sunday night sponsors meet 45 minutes before the youth to go over the teaching points for the evening lesson.

    Here’s a link to our web site where we have a button for “Sunday School lessons” and one for “Lesson” that further divides into UMYF, Seek n Solve and Lock-ins.

  4. Christian Waltmire

    We have junior high and high school combined on Wednesday nights for the hangout, game, worship, and opening message time. Then we divide into age and gender-based small groups. This seems to give the best of both worlds (and make it to where we do not need two nights or places and sets of leaders).

    Sunday morning, we have combined jh/hs Sunday school and then all the youth go to the worship service.

    Seems to be working well for discipleship!

  5. Jeremiah Young

    I have a unique situation that I would love some feedback on and it has to do with this topic of small groups. I am a youth pastor in a small town in Arkansas outside of Fort Smith, and this is my first full time ministry position. I came in about 7 months ago and our church was already meeting in small groups across the board on Sunday nights, which was great. The youth ministry had one group for girls and one for guys that would meet at a youth leaders house, as an incoming youth minister i was thrilled to see small groups existing already and functioning well. After I had settled in and started to build relationships with students i started to realize an odd trend happening in our small groups that i never noticed and haven’t seen before in my previous experiences. We have students who will ONLY attend small groups, even after asking them to come to other events, inviting them personally, students inviting and asking there was still no response. But when it came to meeting in a home they seemed to feel more comfortable, which i completely understand. Speaking with my leaders of these particular groups i come to realize that in those small groups we have students who are on our leadership team and are really desiring to dive deeper into God’s word in discipleship but then there are students who really have no desire to come to any other event but they enjoy small groups. I also get the sense that they do not want to go to “church” even though i consider small groups the building block of the “church” in Scripture. I do not want to scare them off but it has been difficult to engage the group and still be aware of where each student is at. Since each group is different i cannot go into lots of detail about the exact curriculum but for the most part these are discipleship groups for young men and women to learn how to live out their faith and not just talk about it. These students are not a disruption by any means but they are not showing any spiritual growth and just come to hang out and eat food. Now please don’t take this as meaning i am a no fun kind of guy or don’t want students hanging out, I am all for that. But it has become such a habit that other students aren’t getting nurtured or the students whom i am speaking of, are sitting through lessons that can be too deep for them or they just don’t care about. I don’t want to split them into believers who want grow and non-believers or those who are not sure but some times i feel like if the students who are looking for something more hear the same thing over and over they become stagnant in their faith and not owning it. The other side is i see a group of men and women who may be desiring more from their life but only come to hang out, and really aren’t interested in one on one time or going to church. The group i am talking about is mostly high school students. I just find this tension of helping my teachers and myself to teach through it and teach to the students who are their to grow but at the same time i do not want to neglect the people who just aren’t there yet. I hope this makes sense and i could use some feedback on how to engage students who aren’t (on the outside) looking to grow all the while appealing to those who desire a deeper relationship with Christ. Thanks hope this wasn’t too long.

  6. PreacherMike74

    I was in the YM for 13+ years. I had many program ideas and functions. I to this day believe that there are only two essentials; A) Love “youts” whoever & wherever they are, all the time. 2) Surround them with adults that feel the same way you do and will love the with the inerrant Word of God and Christ as the only means of salvation!
    P.S. love you site and wish I had it… “IDEAS BOOKS” was all we had.

  7. 2 things. Our YM is already a “small group”. We tend to only have about 4-8 kids on a Sunday night for our main youth group meeting time. Wednesday nights we may have 4. Do you still offer “small groups”?

    2. Because we only have a small group showing up, would you still separate Jr. and Sr. highs?

    A question I have is: What’s the normal percentage of your church youth aged teens that you are actually having show up for youth group? In our case we can pull 20+ kids for a youth trip, most of which are from our church, but then on a Bible study or regular youth night we only have a few. What gives?

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These Are the Best Practices of Youth...

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