6 Challenges to Starting a Jr. High Ministry

So, you’re thinking about starting a Jr. High Ministry. Excellent! 

There are lots of reasons for separating junior high students from senior high students.

Their interests and abilities differ greatly. The kind of programs you can run when you separate them can be really well targeted to their age levels. It can be easier to do outreach when your group is closer in age. Some parents may prefer that their 12 year old daughter isn’t playing twister with a bearded 17 year old!

It seems like a no-brainer to divide these distinct age groups if you have enough students and leaders…But before you announce that you are going  to separate your groups in the fall, you will need to have a response for these 6 challenges…

Youth ministry texts will outline many positive reasons to launch a youth ministry for early adolescent students. Here’s a list of concerns that you will have to address when attempting to develop a Junior High or middle school ministry in a church.

1. Could be Seen as Childish

Younger teens may see junior high as childish, and resent being separated from the senior high group. This can be addressed by promoting the higher status junior high students will have when they do not have the older students looking over their shoulders.

2. Conflict and competition between the two groups.

Since it is likely that one youth pastor will be the leader of both groups one group may feel that the other group is getting more of the leader’s attention, or more of the church finances to run the ministry. While a leader can try to persuade both groups that they each receive attention the reality is that a balance is difficult to achieve. This can be settled by recruiting and training equally devoted volunteers for each group.

3. Junior high girls will feel too old for the group.

Developmentally girls are two years ahead of the boys. It is likely the junior high girls are attracted to boys at least one grade ahead of them. They may be annoyed by the immaturity of the boys their own age. As a rule of thumb I allow older junior high girls some flexibility to attend both groups. This will be a bigger issue when the group is first begun but normally settles itself out over time as the new group becomes more established.

4. Parents May Object

You may think that parents will love this. I was surprised to discover that some parents loved having all of their teens out on the same night. Driving 2 nights a week, having 2 different retreat weekends, and different youth events for their kids made some parents mad. There is not easy way around this unless both groups meet on the same night. Eventually families will adjust but don’t be shocked if some parents meet you idea with anger rather than joy.

5. Divided Attention

Practically speaking most of us have limited abilities to multi-task. Running two groups with two volunteer teams, two worship teams, two retreats a year, two budgets, two outreaches a month, and two Bible studies can leave even very capable people feeling overwhelmed. Eventually like the person with two masters, they will love the one and hate the other or vice versa. Eventually the youth pastor will likely have to step back from one of the ministries and look for another leader for one of the two.

6. Seen as Second Class

There may be a perceived inferior status of the junior high ministry. Sadly, there seems to be a hierarchy in the church based on the importance of ministries, with the Sunday morning service leading the pack and straggling at the back the fledgling junior high ministry.

Something to Consider

I must sound like I am talking you out of trying to launch a junior high ministry. I’m not. I am very concerned that address each of these challenges before you get started. Consider how each one can be faced and overcome.

There are many advantages to separating the older students from the younger ones. If your group is large enough and if you have strong support from the church, the parents, and the students then it may be worth overcoming all of these challenges.

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Ron Powell

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Ron Powell is the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email ron.powell@vanguardcollege.com

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