I’m not saying that every youth group should combine jr. high and sr. high ministries, but I do think there are some valid reasons for keeping them together. Most ministries that have the two age groups combined do so only because they don’t feel as if they’re big enough to divide into two groups yet. Although some prominent youth ministers will tell you to divide the group right away regardless of how many students are in the ministry, I’d like to encourage us to think through the other side of the argument before proceeding just because some guru tells us to.
1. High school kids can leave a huge impact on jr. highers.
Seriously, this is HUGE! Think back to when you were in jr. high. If a high school kid actually talked to you and gave you attention, that meant the world! I still remember a Boy Scout trip back in 8th grade. One of the older guys who just got his driver’s license had a conversation with me while we were filling up water bottles — that made my entire weekend! Almost 20 years later I can still tell you what our conversation was about. I felt valued, appreciated, and totally accepted.
Encourage your high school students to reach out to the underclassmen as much as possible. If the guys on the wrestling team I help coach at our public high school can help train, encourage, and teach the upcoming jr. highers how to wrestle every day in practice, we should certainly be able to expect Christian kids to do the same spiritually.
2. It models what the body of Christ is all about
The body of Christ is not about segregating into groups of a similar age range. In fact, that could even have devastating affects on the body of Christ if we’re not careful. Diversity, working together, genuine community in spite of differences, all for the sake of bringing glory to God — this is what the body is all about.
3. It shapes a healthier view of church for their adult years
We must always be careful about how our ministries are unintentionally (even subconsciously) shaping our teenagers’ view of church, especially as they grow into adulthood and retain that perspective. Are they learning that church is a place where you latch on to peers in the same stage of life? Are they growing up with the expectation that they are at church to be served instead of serving others (consumerism)? Are they learning to embrace the diversity in love?
If you have jr. high and sr. high ministries split, why? If they’re combined, why? I’d love to process this more with you all in the comments below. I’m not convinced that one way is better than the other, but I do think it’s extremely critical that we think through why we divide or combine them.
Oh, and let’s try to get past all the general reasons like, “They’re at difference places in life,” and, “The jr. highers get on the high school kids’ nerves.” I don’t think they’re valid enough reasons to excuse greater benefit of keeping everyone together. They’re easily worked through given a bit of time to help kids and parents shift their perspective of youth group.
Just for the record, my youth ministry is divided into jr. and sr. high and that will not change anytime soon, although I’d love to explore the possibly some day.
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Posted on January 13, 2009