I was recently asked what I think about mixing middle school and high school youth together for youth ministry activities.What are the pros and cons of mixed-age groups?
I've served in ministries that tossed all youth together into one happy fellowship and others that kept them separate as much as possible. Sometimes, particularly with small ministries, keeping all the youth together ensures a critical mass. In larger ministries, splitting the groups helps to maintain a sense of intimacy and may keep the more reticent or introverted youth from feeling swallowed up by the crowd.
What about programmatic reasons for separating youth by age? There may be times when the subject matter you are discussing is too mature for younger youth. Relatedly, you may want to approach a Bible study at more depth with older teens while keeping it a little more active for younger teens. Teaching in age segregated groups can make it easier to address the particular learning needs of your youth.
But one final thought: If we make it a regular practice of simply using age as the way in which we group our youth, are we perhaps encouraging the same attitudes in the Church that often results in the segregation of teens and adults -- a practice that insulates and isolates youth from seeing the reality of the whole Church? I wonder that the best of approach is not to have any hard-and-fast rule in this area -- separate youth by age when it seems appropriate, but also find many opportunities to bring them together, to let older youth mentor the younger teens, and to let the younger teens inspire the older youth with their enthusiasm.
But what do I know? What have been your experiences with mixed-age groups? What advice would you offer to your fellow youth workers?