“a small group is one of the best ways to introduce this generation to the concept of a God who loves them unconditionally.”
― Reggie Joiner, Creating a Lead Small Culture: Make Your Church a Place Where Kids Belong
I don’t know about you, but for me and my youth ministry, small groups matter. It matters when students connect with adults in a real authentic way. It matters when small group leaders show up for the basketball game. It matters when they invest years into relationships not expecting anything but for God to show his love. It matters, because it mattered for me. It probably mattered for you. The reason you are a youth pastor is probably because someone somewhere invested in you.
Youth ministries today need to be built on small groups. It is easier said than done. Small groups take years to build a culture that cultivates and empowers leaders to actually lead their few. Their small group.
When I came to this ministry position 3 years ago, I inherited a pretty health youth ministry. They had everything, busses, good core of student leaders, good core of adult leaders. But, they where missing something. They were missing small groups. Now, they were doing small groups at the end of a youth night with 5-10 minutes to spare. That isn’t a small group. That is a holding zone.
So, one of the first things I did was work on small groups. It has been 3 years of building culture, training, reading books, and anything thing I can do to get leaders to really get it.
Here is what I think we did really well when building a small group culture:
1. Empower Leaders. Give small groups leaders time with students each week. Now, I know that we don’t give our leaders always enough time, but we give them something. We recommend that small group leaders hangout with someone from their small group weekly, and monthly have a hangout.
This means that a few times a year we shut everything down and have small group night outs. This is one chance to force small groups to really spend time together. It has been a huge hit this past fall. My grade 8 boy’s small group was the wildest, and still is a wild group, but once we spend two weeks in a row in at my house hanging out, playing Wii U, and other crazy games, they finally trusted me and some other leaders. Once they got to know us, they also mellowed out.
It takes time to build leaders, and to build relationships. Why do we think it will happen if we aren’t intentional? The question I want to ask this coming year is this: Could this be done better in a small group?
A few months ago we ran a big event, but we din’t get the turn out we expected. The days after the event I was thinking where was everyone. I saw some of my grade 8 boys at the skatepark and asked them where they were. They were all busy. Really? These are the same guys that will show up to my house any time to eat pizza and watch a lame movie. Well, they just had better things to do. The event didn’t do a great job building small group connections, and we had to own that.
Our small groups matter because the students that I serve need as many adult connections as they can get. How are you empowering your leaders to actually lead?
2. Use Sermon Based Material. One of the effective things we did was to run sermon based small group questions. So, each night the students will hear a message and then break into small groups. You quickly find out who isn’t on the same page.
When I first arrived, I had a few leaders who just tossed the small group questions aside stating that they questions were stupid. They didn’t get that he questions weren’t the point, interacting with the word of God together as a small group was. They didn’t last. They just naturally drifted on to something else.
We have trained our leaders a few times on how to craft questions, and how to deliver small group questions. It has taken years to get my leaders to use and love sermon based small group questions.
3. Train up leaders. Some of your best leaders are the students in your ministry right now. I was talking with a youth pastor about how he recruited small group leaders to a huge ministry, and he simply said that he developed students. He said that the students that came up through the ministry caught the vision, they weren’t taught on how to lead a group. The students knew what worked in small group, and what they wanted to see in a small group.
This past year a younger leader I was talking to shared that they were going to commit to 4 years to see their grade 8 girls through high school. I was overwhelmed by hearing this. This is what these girls need in high school, and in our church. They need deep relationships that will last a life time.
Those are 3 simple ways that my youth ministry is being intentional with how we run, and lead small groups. I want to empower leaders, preach the gospel, and unpack it, and train up leaders.