Should I split Senior High and Junior High?
A list of Pros and Cons
To split or not to split? That is a question many of us have asked who lead both Jr. and Sr. High youth students.
Is it better to keep all your students together, or give them their own time?
This is a question I dealt with when I first started in the church I am currently serving at. Besides spending a lot of time in prayer and talking with other youth workers about their experience (both of which I would recommend doing!), here’s a list of pros and cons to both options. I hope that it helps bring some clarity and direction to a challenging, yet important question for your ministry.
Pros for keeping Jr. and Sr. High together:
A joint ministry means more students, and more students may mean more energy and excitement for events or activities. It’s typically true that students are more inclined to come to something when they know that other students are participating.
We also want our Jr. High students to have positive role models that they can connect with and look up to. A mixed ministry provides Jr. High students with close-to-their-age examples of how to live out their faith.
Peer Mentoring/Student Leadership
In a combined ministry, having older student leaders involved in mentoring younger students often times helps high school students remain engaged because they have ownership over a mission, and younger students see what it means to be a student leader and know that it’s something they can be a part of as they get older.
It means so much to the younger students in your ministry when your high school students come up and talk to them, know their name, show that they are valued, ask them to do stuff with them, worship and play alongside them, and make them feel welcome. Keeping Senior High and Junior High together may help you create a more family-style atmosphere.
Sometimes church is the only place that siblings talk about faith together. Combing groups may help siblings to grow closer. A combined meeting time may also be easier on the family schedule.
Cons for keeping Jr. and Sr. High together:
Choosing opening games/activities can be more challenging when groups are combined. Some of the games the younger students love, the older students are tired of or think are childish, and some of the more complicated activities/team building can be harder for the younger kids to connect with or stay focused on.
Distractions during Worship
Jr. High students are not always as focused on worship and have a tendency to talk and be distracting during that time which can be frustrating for older students, creating tension in a mixed environment.
If you have a limited amount of space to work with, keeping the larger group together may limit what you can do as far as set up/games/etc.
Conflict between Siblings
Some siblings would prefer (or need) to have their own time away from siblings the entirety of youth group, in which case a joint group could produce conflict.
Pros for keeping Jr. and Sr. High separate:
Students like and need time with kids their same age who are going through the same struggles and challenges and new experiences as they are. Separate ministries provide more time with the same age group. It may even give the older students a break from being with the younger ones and allow the younger students to feel more free to be their crazy selves.
Students have the potential to be together for many years in ministry, and that consistent time often leads to life-long friendships and bonds. Structuring time each week for them to be with their grade may help strengthen those bonds. Small group leaders may even get to have these students for 7 years in the same group allowing them to get to know students deeper and they feel more ownership of your ministry.
When groups are separate, each small group curriculum can be based on the unique needs of each age group. It will likely be easier to adjust your curriculum to match the social and spiritual maturity levels of your students.
Cons for keeping Jr. and Sr. High separate:
Separate small groups means that students don’t get to hear from students of different ages and life experiences that could bring a different perspective on topics. It may also limit the amount of bonding as a group when learning the Bible/Scripture- doesn’t always allow for conversation on the same topic across the grades.
Volunteers & Space
Separate ministries typically require more volunteer adult leaders and additional oversight. And more space or classrooms may be needed, depending on the setup at your church.
As you can see, there are plenty of pros and cons for each option. One additional option to consider is having your group all together for part of your youth ministry time and then have them separate for the other half.
Whatever you decide, I hope that the pros and cons above are able to help you discern and inform your decision. In the end, there is no ultimate right or wrong answer. You need to figure out what is best for your specific ministry context and go from there.
Start with prayer, then reach out to others in youth ministry for their insight and advice, and utilize the above pros and cons as you consider what might be best for you and your youth ministry.
About the Author
Frank Newburn is a husband and father of three. He has been the youth director for Wesley United Methodist Church in Bloomington, Illinois since 2006. Before that Frank worked for LeaderTreks as a Leadership Specialist and Trip Leader. His ministry focuses include mentoring and discipleship, student leadership, and missions. He has over 25 years of youth… Read More