If you are like most youth directors and youth pastors you are probably in charge of both middle school and high school. It is a huge job, and planning and executing youth group is a lot of work. But hey, the groups seem to get along. So why not just have them combined for youth group? It kills two birds with one stone, everyone seems to have a good time, and it’s fine, right? Wrong.
Combined middle and high school youth groups are like a 7-10 split in bowling. You either hit one of the two sides perfectly or you bowl right down the middle and miss both completely. Very seldom are you able to hit them both with one shot. I know splitting the group is at least double the amount of work! You don’t know where you will get that time and you probably don’t want to hear that you should split them, even though in the back of your head you know you should. Here are a few reasons why splitting the group is the right thing to do!
1. High Schoolers and Middle Schoolers have completely different needs.
I often joke that high schoolers are worried about what college they are going to go to, what direction their life is going to take, and the jobs they are working. While middle schoolers’ biggest concerns are when they will grow their first arm pit hair. Now, I know that both groups of students deal with big issues in their lives but the point is that those issues are very, very different. They both need attention at different levels for different issues and that can be extremely hard to give while they are all together. I have given countless messages to 7th-12th grade and every time, even though I did the best that I possibly could, I knew that my topics, illustrations and stories were best suited for one group or the other. Small groups, messages, topics, questions, and conversations should be able to be tailored completely to the group that you are with instead of having to tweak them to hit both and in so doing miss both all together.
2. High Schoolers and Middle Schoolers like and enjoy different things.
If you have run both middle school and high school groups separately you know this to be true! I remember the first group that I split, I thought that I was doing what they both enjoyed while they were together. They all seemed to be having fun with the games and liked everything that I did. It wasn’t until I split the groups and found out that the games and activities that they actually liked were so different it was crazy. Middle schoolers will do the most insane things for no incentive whatsoever where high schoolers won’t volunteer for a game unless there is a Starbucks card on the line. In middle school you can do the weirdest, craziest, and grossest things and they think it is awesome! In high school you do the exact same thing and they just think its weird, crazy, and gross. They are at different places in their social and developmental lives and they like different things. When the groups are together it is hard to see because a lot of the time they will just blend in and pretend that they like it. And that is not to say that they don’t like it, but don’t want them to settle for liking it when they could LOVE it! When you split the groups into their respective ages it allows you to play the games and do the activities that are tailored to exactly what that group enjoys.
3. The combo makes it a tough invite.
If you stop and think outside of the youth group setting for a second where do you see 17 and 18 year olds hanging out with 12 and 13 year olds? You don’t. Most high schoolers think middle schoolers are annoying, and most middle schoolers think high schoolers are intimidating. But when it comes to youth group we stick them together and expect it to all work out. When I split my first group I knew that this was an issue but I didn’t realize how much of an issue it was until the split happened. Both groups almost doubled in size within the first week! As I was talking to students from each age group I asked them how they heard about the group and why they decided to come. Their responses caught me off guard. Many of them said they had actually been invited and showed up to youth group before but they either never actually walked in the door or they only stayed for 5 minutes and left before it started. When I asked why, the middle schoolers said they were intimidated and didn’t feel comfortable with all the older students around. And the high schoolers said they didn’t want to hang out with a bunch of annoying little kids. It wasn’t until then that I realized how much of a turn off to new students it is to have both groups combined. When you split the groups into the appropriate ages it makes it so much easier for your students to invite their friends to a group that they will feel comfortable in.
Splitting the groups is A TON more work but in the long run it will pay off in so many ways. Students will be able to learn and grow at their level, have the fun and interaction that they desire, and invite friends without fear of their reactions. I know that it can be scary but this is something that will not only help the group but will grow the group. Multiplication through division.
If you have questions or would like coaching on a split email firstname.lastname@example.org