Middle School & High School: The Difference [part 1]

Over my years in student ministry I have worked as a Middle School Director (overseeing 6-8 grade), a Student Ministries Pastor (6-12 grade) and now I oversee a Middle School Director and work specifically with High School students.  I have been asked, on occasion, what the difference is between those two types of ministries.  I heard someone say it this way one time… and I completely agree with them, that the difference is CONTENT and CONTEXT.  Today I will talk about CONTENT.

CONTENT

I see 3 big differences in content between Middle School and High School: Delivery, Duration, & Depth.

1] Delivery – What I have seen over the years and experienced personally, is that my delivery of content is completely different to middle school students than it is to high school students.  With middle schoolers, I tended to be more of a facilitator and less of a “speaker.”  I would teach for like 15 minutes… and then have students talk in groups about what they heard or what they had experienced.  Middle school students tend to have a little more “energy,” so they need to be engaged in the message more.  With High School students… I tend to be more of a teacher or “up front speaker.”

2] Duration – A major difference between MS and HS is how long they can sit still.  At the most, middle school students have anywhere from a 15-20 min. attention span, so I have 15-20 minutes to deliver the content.  Usually… if it goes beyond that, I have lost them.  HS students seem to be able to pay attention for longer durations… but not much longer:  25-30 minutes.  I have found that if I go beyond the 30 min. mark… I have completely lost them.  Rule of thumb:  MS – keep it short and sweet and to the point.  HS – make sure that you connect and don’t go too long.

3] Depth – There are just some things that you can’t talk about in the same way with a MS student that you can with a HS student.  Sex, Dating, Partying, etc…  It’s not that you can’t or shouldn’t talk about these things… but the depth that you go with them is determined by age.  Most middle school students don’t have the experiences to draw from when it comes to some of this stuff… so they cannot immediately relate.  HS students are immersed in this stuff all the time.  So when you are putting together your messages, audience becomes a driving force on how deep you go with it.  I usually look at it this way: MS = INFORMATION… so I can generally talk about it and what God says about it.  HS = EXPERIENCE… so I can talk specifically about it and what God says specifically about it.

There are probably more that I have missed… but this is a good framework to start thinking about the differences between these two CRUCIAL ministries in the church when it comes to the CONTENT we teach.

Tomorrow I will look at the major difference of CONTEXT.


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2 thoughts on “Middle School & High School: The Difference [part 1]

  1. I have been doing youth ministry for 22 years. I combine my middle school and high school for Wednesday night services. I have used the “upfront” method for the past 5 years succesfully with both age groups. My lessons run from 30-45 minuts and have never had miuch trouble keeping either age groups attention. Maybe it is our culture?
    But thanks for the article

    1. I did that for the last 5 years and what I found was that I would get super frustrated that I could only go so deep with High School students and that I lost the younger ones when I did. I absolutely think our culture has to do with it… but that’s not something that we can readily and easily change. Thanks for the insight and comments.

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