How, when and why do you split middle school and high school?
Here is how I responded to the question:
In my previous youth ministry position, I was given the option to leave middle school and high school combined or to split them. Logistically, it would be easier to combine the groups, but I would lose some high school students if they were in the same program as middle school students. If I split the groups, it would mean two separate programs on two different nights, and each program would cater to the developmental, environmental and theological needs of each age group.
After much contemplation, prayer and research, I decided to split the groups. I was too convinced that there are major differences (theological, social, developmental and emotional) between middle school and high school, and each needs their own environment.
If you spend more than five minutes with a middle school student, you will quickly notice their uniqueness. Middle school students are concrete thinkers. They cannot think abstractly. They need life to be black and white. Middle schoolers are also intuitive. Somehow, they manage to feel their way through life. Middle schoolers are emotional basket cases. Their emotional worlds consist of many highs and lows. So let the drama unfold and be the stable adult who anchors them in reality while affirming their crazy emotions. They need consistent adult relationships because they are so dependent. They also need to experience the affective side of God’s character. They need to feel Jesus in addition to just learning about him. This is why worshiping through music and environment are such a big deal for middle school students.
Nuclear fission is the splitting of a large atom into two smaller ones. It takes little energy to split the large atom, but the outcome is very explosive when you make the split. I felt the same way about splitting middle school and high school. It is pretty clear I had to make the split, and it would take some time and effort to do it, but I knew it would be so beneficial to the middle schoolers because they need their own environment due to their life experiences, life expectations and life examples. The beauty about applying nuclear fission to combined youth groups is that it automatically releases enough momentum to generate two distinct groups.
So how does a youth pastor go about splitting the groups?
When I did it, I used the acronym RARE, which helped me think through each component when splitting one combined program to create two programs. Here is how I designed one specific targeted program for middle school students.
I secured a space designated for middle school. Having a room is vitally important. Environment is everything for middle schoolers. Middle school students need a climate that is welcoming and warm. It helps if the room is fairly open so they can run around and burn off some of their energy.
Getting more consistent adult volunteers to volunteer in middle school ministry will help middle schoolers relationally connect. The aim is to have one committed and caring adult for every five to eight kids. Middle schoolers need proactive support. All middle school kids need to have an adult leader look into their eyes and say something nice about them. Having affirming adult volunteers will assist in creating a safe, warm and welcoming middle school environment.
Find specific middle school resources. Middle school ministry resources will help your programs meet the developmental, environmental and theological needs for each middle school kid. Middle schoolers love games. There are tons of great youth group game Web sites and books. Find a great middle school curriculum. Curriculum will help lighten your workload, as well as help teach you how middle schoolers learn and experience the Bible. Also, find a winter or summer camp that is specific to middle school. Middle schoolers need time to retreat that includes fun, Jesus and sugar.
A passion for middle school ministry is a requirement when making the split. If you are not passionate about middle school, you need to find someone who is. It is a disservice to middle schoolers if their youth pastor isn’t excited to be ministering to them.
I have really grown to love working with middle schoolers. They have taught me an enormous amount about how to follow God. Middle schoolers have this tenacious way to run after Jesus. They simply have no problem expressing how they feel toward God.
I am so glad I made the split. Yes, it did take a lot of prayer, a little more work and required one more ministry night out, but it was worth it. Each age group deserves its own time and program.