The age categories in American churches are an odd thing. We try to stick kids into the same age slots that they are used to at school but then we realize that there is a lot to be learned from mixing age groups so that the older children can develop leadership and teaching skills while the younger kids benefit from the socialization with older kids. But then an older kid repeats something inappropriate for a 1st grader to hear and we separate them back out again.
The gap begins to get even worse as kids get older. Tweeners get lost in the shuffle. High schoolers feel torn once they are automobile-mobile and the world opens up new doors. College students don't always find their niche and young adults don't always find their place.
Lately I've been meeting with some "seasoned" youth pastors in my area and I've gotten some great ideas on helping mind the gap. Here are a few:
- Tweeners: the kids who are too cool for children's ministry and too young for youth ministry. There are some churches doing great tweener ministry. This is a great age to start a "junior youth group." Something just for them. I know of some churches that do the Dinner and a Movie curriculum, others that use a tradition children's ministry curriculum but meet at a different time from the younger kids, and some that just meet once a month for something social so that they can feel special.
- There is a church near me that takes the summer before the first year middle school to do leadership training. They generally do this during VBS but it could be done at any point during the summer. These kids are better prepared for youth group, middle school, and confirmation class.
- Driving Years: one church does a "drivers license" ceremony. They present them with a key chain with the church name on it and pray for their safety and help them to realize the possibilities they have to witness to others now that they are mobile.
- Graduation: Video montages from birth to graduation, a "roast" of the graduates complete with surprise guests, letting a graduating senior preach, creating a "last will and testament" where students leave wisdom and items from youth trips to younger members.
- College students: hosting students during the summer for special events, sending care packages to those who are away, mission trips during college break.