This week we’re going to focus on some of the best practices of youth ministry nationwide and hope that it generates some helpful conversation as you agree, disagree or have no opinion either way! Right up front we want to let you know that there is no PERFECT way to do youth ministry; our hope is that you prayerfully consider your context and determine what would and wouldn’t work in the ministry you lead.

BEST PRACTICE: Dividing up junior high and high school students.
There is simply too much difference between a 12-year-old 7th grader and an 18-year-old graduating senior—specifically, the developmental differences. Plus, on a practical note, keeping them separate gives the junior highers something to look forward to. Having said all that, there are some incredible opportunities when you keep these groups together. The older students can disciple and model what younger students can become over the next few years.

• Do you have separate ministries for junior and senior high?
• Why or why not?
• What are other pros and cons of dividing up these age groups?
• What would happen if you made the switch?

BEST PRACTICE: Small groups being the primary method of discipleship and fellowship.
Most youth groups meet once a week for a large-group time of celebration, fun, and worship; and then either as part of that gathering, or at another time during the week, divide up into small groups for fellowship and discipleship. The overwhelming model has been for groups to work through a curriculum and also share life and Christian community together.

• Does your church have small groups, Sunday school, or just large group times?
• Why have you chosen this strategy?
• What is the weakness of this model?
• Sunday school used to be invincible; now it has largely been replaced by small groups. What’s next?

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been posting the results of a significant survey of over 8,000 new members joining Saddleback Church. The results have been interesting – for the first time there’s real evidence of why people attend church and what is most important to people who are considering joining your organization. Here are links to the results of the survey, each with a little commentary:

#10 – Special Events and Activities
#9 – Location Near Our Home
#8 – Missions
#7 – Different Styles of Worship
#6 – Small Groups and Discipleship Classes
#5 – Pastoral Care
#4 – Children’s and Youth Ministry
#3 – Service Opportunities
#2 – Worship
#1 – Preaching and Teaching

So based on that research … I’ve created THE PERFECT CHURCH!

You walk in for the first time. Thankfully, the church was near your home so you slid into your seat just in time. You flip through the program and see a few upcoming events and are glad to see that the church is one small part of something that God is doing all around the world. Your husband sneaks in next to you, having dropped off the kids and sending your teenager on his way to youth group. “I’m impressed,” he says, “this place looks really great.” You fumble through a brochure that has the right buzzwords written on it but most importantly it is backed up by everything you’ve seen. “It IS great,” you think. Might be time to join a small group after you get settled in.

The service starts with an authentic and passionate music set, perfect to your taste. You smile thinking how this service seemed to be created just for you. The creativity and preparation for the services keeps you unsure of what’s next, but safe. One of the pastors speaks on a topic that is exactly what you were wrestling with that week. You laugh half the time, you knowingly nod a few times, you even tear up a little at the end.

You walk out to get the kids and say at the same time, “This place is perfect.”

So you join it. And it wouldn’t be perfect anymore.