Youth workers work hard, and I have so much respect for the ones that run two different nights for Junior Highs and High School students. In many ways its a necessary part of ministry as running a program for sixth grade to twelfth grade is challenging if not impossible to effectively engage students in such a diverse age range. We felt that same challenge in our group but did not have the resources to go to a multi-gather format. So after much thought and prayer we decided to completely overhaul our youth night to help alleviate many of the challenges we had been seeing in years past. So here is what we did, why we did it, what is working and what needs tweaking 8 months in.
Why did we change things?
For the past few years we have been facing real challenge of students making the leap from our kids program to high school. They were going from being the big fish in the pond to feeling like minnows in our student ministry and the intimidation was a big factor. Our youth night has been Thursday nights from 7:30-9:30 for 10 years now and for some parents of younger students this is a deal breaker, it was too late for their kids and up until this point our response was simply sorry.We also recognized like many of you, that resources were finite at the church and running a two night program would be a strain on our volunteers, worship teams, and myself and my family. The group was out-growing our facility and having 25 small groups trying to find a place to connect and focus was getting more and more difficult. Changes needed to happen, we needed to split the groups but going to two nights just wasn’t going to work, so here is what we did:
The Good: We are now 8 months in and things are going really well and here are a few of the highlights:
- Early start time for Jr’s has meant that there is much less fear of coming to Youth. Young students arrive with their peers and when they join the older students for Worship they come in a wave of junior high energy.
- Early end time has made grade six and seven parents more willing to send their kids and those students bring friends.
- Two teaching times means that we can talk about issues differently and at a level that is challenging to both groups and has us no longer teaching to the middle or losing the young students with a high school level sermon
- Having a game for the junior high students gets their energy out and means that we don’t have to have a game during the main session all the time which the high school students appreciate.
- Running small groups at two separate times it allows us to effectively double the usable space in the building by using the rooms twice.
- The High School-only hang out time before has matured that time and our high school students are showing up earlier and earlier each week just to connect.
- We have added a half time position to cover off the Jr High coordinating but have maintained the same worship teams, volunteers and our costs have not changed either.
- Grade 6 is a flex year where families can try youth and if it its too much their students can stay in kidsmin for one more year. Its a safety net that was never there before and it works.
- Students now will attend youth group on the same night for 7 years and it makes it easier to prioritize instead of switching between Jr/Sr High night.
The Challenges: It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing but we have learned a lot this year:
- Having such a concise and regimented schedule means that anything that runs long, or a technical glitch and keep the train from hitting the stations on time which can be challenging for people like me.
- Our 30 minute worship set can keep us from being sensitive to the Holy Spirit and while early in the year we were quite rigid about the schedule, we have learned to be attentive and embrace moments that may extend the worship time and cut into small groups.
- Grade 8′s are funny. The outline has grade 8 being a flex year and this year our grade 8′s are old for their age and dealing with challenging issues so having them with grade 6′s is not something they always want to do. We moved them up after spring break to High School for which they were thankful.
- Having two leaders meetings has proven challenging and the frequency and quality of the preservice meet ups has diminished throughout the year
- Writing two versions of the same sermon or two unique talks has been more work than we bargained for, but we have finally found a groove in that department.
- Parents with students in both groups were vocal about the annoyance of coming to the church twice but with us offering activities before and after those concerns have diminished.
I am so thankful that we chose to do it this way and would make the same choice again to do it.Have you tried something similar? Do you have a question about it? Post a comment and lets chat about it!
GS – Twitter