The Small Group Fail

 —  November 20, 2014 — Leave a comment


I can recall my first major small group fail vividly from about 17 years ago.  

I had been in youth ministry for a few years by then, so I thought of myself as a little bit of an up-and-coming relational expert.  We were in the middle of a great discussion (or so I thought) when one of the girls announces, “Someone in this room keeps looking at me funny, and it is ticking me off.”

Thinking I had mad conflict-resolution skills I say, “Ok, well that’s not good let’s take the time right now to work this out.”  Needless to say, I was the one they thought was giving them the stink eye, and things only spiraled downward from there. In the end my ten girls were split down the middle: 5 and 5 in a heated debate about my skills as a small group leader while I desperately tried to regain control. I confess it ended with me in tears and 2 girls using it as an excuse to quit youth group. Although, when I came back the next week another girl said to me, “You must really love us, because there is no way I would be back after the beating you took last week.”

The small group fail happens to the best of us. What do we do in these situations? Here are three situations you might encounter and how I have handled them:

 Eat Your Words:

  • In this situation you unintentionally say something that pushes a hot button for a student. This happened to me just last week. We were talking about a pretty heavy topic in small group. I thought it was going well when all of a sudden a student took something I said out of context,  feelings were unintentionally hurt and I had to undo my words. Often times it’s when we make a broad statement about an issue that we have no idea hits home.  Something like, “God’s original intention was not for there to be single parents.”  You get, “So you’re saying single parents are bad? My Mom loves me.”  Uh oh. You were not attacking this student’s home life.
  • What to do? Make sure the student knows you were not attacking. Apologize that you hurt them in any way, that was not your intention.  Sometimes if a student is struggling with something this opens a wound you didn’t even know was there. Reword your point, so they know the point you were making. You may need to try a different example. Take back the time and readjust. You may need to talk to the student after the small group time to ensure they understand that the point was not at them at all.

The Awkward Moment:

  •  You are trying to make a point and say something in a way that just gets them snickering. It takes you a second to realize what you have done. There was the time as a newlywed my husband said,  “I’m sorry I’m not better prepared. I got busy last night.” There was much whooping. There was also the time when I coughed and farted at the same time, both loudly. The group starts with a small under the breath giggle and by the end they are guffawing. In the meantime you realize what you have said (or done), and are bright red.
  • What to do?  Shake it off.  Acknowledge it.  Laugh at yourself.  At the cough/fart I said, “Let’s just get the laugh over with. Yep, you heard it right. Everybody has gas.”  Let them have their moment of laughter. It’s ok to be embarrassed and even admit it. “Well, if you hadn’t guessed before now, I’m just not cool.” Then regain composure and redirect the group to get back to topic. It may take a few tries. It might be the point in the group where you can’t regain the deep discussion and that is alright. This might be the time where you say, “Alright, let’s just talk about how things are going for you in life right now. Tell me about the craziest thing that happened to you this week. Mine was that moment right there.”  It just might the time you get to know your students more deeply.

The Blank Stare:

  • You are in an impassioned speech about Jesus with multiple points. It may not be totally on topic but it’s important and they will see this. That is when you look around and notice one student is asleep, two have their heads on the table and the rest have a glazed look in their eyes. You have lost them. Your rambling rabbit trail missed entirely.
  • What To Do?  Ask a question. Stop talking and get them back. Say something like, “Well, I have talked enough, what do you think?” They may ask, “I’m sorry. About what?” Pick one thing you were trying to get across and ask about that question. Bring it back to them. Small groups are not meant to be a sermon series, they are meant to be interactive. Sometimes when we can’t get students to engage we like to fill the silence. Just sit there and wait for them to answer you back. Chances are they weren’t bored, they were thinking. Sometimes we just need to give them a moment to process.

Remember this, God is bigger than our small group fails.There are going to be moments when we walk away and say, “That didn’t work at all.”  There are going to be other times when we saw the Lord at work clearly.  Whether you can “feel” Him or not, know Jesus is big enough to be at work in the heart of our students when we don’t measure up. I think it might be in those times our students actually see Him more clearly. It isn’t the failing that matters really, it’s if we are willing to fess up, say sorry, and move forward…

What about you?

Follow-Up-Tips-ScriptsI just sent a quick message to my small group leaders thanking them for leading and offering a quick tip on caring for their students. I hope this is helpful for you, and if you really like it feel free to send it to your leaders. Just delete my name and add yours. Here it is:

“Hey Friends!

Hope your groups are going well. This week we are talking about the power of words. (They all received a download with small group Q’s and a weekly study to give to students). Thanks for leading well, thanks for taking good attendance, and thanks for loving students.

If you see a student is missing, please contact them. Here are a few texting tips…

• Don’t wait for a student to miss 3 times, send a message every time. (We live in a day where a short text message is commonplace).
• Coordinate with your co-leader so that student doesn’t feel ganged up on.
• Do your best to be positive and not judgemental…Here are some example (remember the power of words)

“Did not see you tonight, what could be more important than us?”
“I heard you were at (insert sport here), you play 3x a week we only meet once a week, come on! :) JK see you next week”
“Missed you tonight, You must love the devil”

“Hey, Missed you tonight, will be be here next week?”
“Tonight we talked about the power of words, you always have good input, missed you tonight”
“Hope to see you next week, I pray for my SLG guys/girls weekly, can you send me a couple things to pray about for you?”

You are the best!”


Crews 26 & 27 in front of the Valentine Family Residence at the Appalachian 2014 Workcamp in West Virginia.

Crews 26 & 27 in front of the Valentine Family Residence at the Appalachian 2014 Workcamp in West Virginia.

The generosity of teenagers trumps tragedy.

Last summer, a crew of 5 teenagers and an adult were 2 hours into building a wheelchair ramp for a West Virginian resident at one of our Appalachian Workcamps when the unimaginable happened. The resident of the home collapsed; emergency personnel were called; and not too long after, they found out that their hours-old friend would not be returning home.

The teenagers were rattled. And then they rallied. With renewed purpose, they embraced a new mission: finish the wheelchair ramp; love the resident’s family in every way possible.
We’ll let the late resident’s daughter, Heather, tell you the rest of the story and how Workcampers made a difference for her family in their time of need.

Read Heather’s letter to us here:

Residentletter1ResidentLetter2ResidentLetter3 ResidentLetter4


This crew teaches us a simple lesson: everyone can love. And sometimes you might be called up to love in ways you never imagined.

CLICK HERE information about our Appalachian Workcamp opportunities for 2015!! We would love for your youth group to join us for one of these or any of our summer mission experiences including Classic Workcamp, Native American Workcamp, Weekend Workcamp, Week of Hope, Lifetree Adventures (international), and Camp Lifetree! Our mission trip advisors are excited to talk with you about any of these opportunities. Give them a call at 800-385-4545 ext. 2!


my favorite part of being wrong is when I admit it out loud.

That may seem like the average person’s least favorite moment.

Let me explain why I feel the opposite about it.

When you’re wrong, there’s usually someone who is passionately trying to point it out to you. Perhaps they’re on a mission to highlight what is plain to them that you’ve somehow been blind to. They’re attempting to get you to be mature or responsible about something you may have been immature or shortsighted about.

This tends to amplify when they feel you wronged them.

On your end, it’s likely not easy to admit that you missed something or made another person feel awkward. This is why when you actually do own it as a genuine step of maturity to the situation or the relationship… something amazing and unexpected happens.

The other person is also now tasked to choose if they’re going to be mature or immature in response to your response.

coneofshameAgain, this individual was on a quest to point out something you missed. In doing so, they situationally claimed the high ground – perhaps for all the right reasons, or maybe for the wrong reasons. They may not have even expected you to own it.

Only… you did. They had a great point. You confessed it, along with a desire to grow.

This is where it’s revealed if that person truly is a friend who will stick with you into the next curve or simply was a critic who wanted to lay a zinger on you. You once were being small in not owning something big, and now that person has to decide what they’re going to do with your mature ability to own your immaturity.

Unfortunately, this is where many conscious accusers become unconsciously divided.

  • They have nothing new left to say… yet they don’t know what to now do with any remnants of the unspoken negativity they felt toward you seconds earlier.
  • They have nothing left to point out… yet find themselves still wanting to be a critical spirit when they generally look at you.
  • They have nothing left to get you to admit… yet find themselves wanting to become your personal “life coach” and show you other things you’ve been blind to.

I adore this moment, not because I’m waiting to see if the accuser will be hypocritical… but because what once was a one-sided pursuit in my direction gets to be a defining moment in every direction of the relationship.

Will the person who felt you were wayward choose to let it go and walk into the future with you?

(By the way – think about how you handle this when you’re the one trying to expose another person to something they’re blind to.)

Reconcile_With_One_AnotherThe reason this is a defining moment?

Because it shows what the relationship is really made of and if two Christ-followers will keep following Christ together. Jesus said in the Lord’s Prayer that we should pray for forgiveness from God that is equal to the way we’ve forgiven other people who have wronged us:

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12)

So the best part about being wrong?

It’s an opportunity for everyone involved to put Jesus on display in what happens next between those involved.

Then again…

I could be wrong.

Thiago-nascimento-opera-background-speaker-jpg1Our 25th episode is HERE!!! In this episode we give you four ways that has helped us support our students, in their spiritual growth. We love sharing our experiences and learnings with you, so thanks for watching. Don’t forget to Subscribe to get the newest show straight to email.


Hope it helps,

AC & Kurt

My Thanksgiving Tyrade

 —  November 18, 2014 — Leave a comment

185816528It happened literally the day after Halloween. Actually the two coincided. Stores started putting up their Christmas decorations. By November 5th it was in full swing. Santa was set up at the mall and all the red, gold, and green decor one could imagine was covering everything. Parking lot pumpkin patches are already being replaced with Christmas Tree sales. Even Starbucks already launched their “red cups” and Christmas drinks. A week or so ago I started receiving ads to help me “prepare” for Black Friday shopping. Actually, in some places if I want I can just start the savings on November 27th.

Does that date sound vaguely familiar? It should because it is Thanksgiving Day. You know the holiday we have somehow forgot that lands between the candy fest and Christmas. It’s the day we all eat too much, hold hands and go around the table and say “thank you” for things big and small from the last year. Stephanie Caro wrote a great post called, “Fall Into Christmas” where she actually discussed some ways to enjoy this middle holiday as we HEAD towards Christmas.

The issue for me is that it isn’t that we are reflecting more deeply on, “The Reason for the Season.” It’s about buying and doing more this year than we did last year. In the meantime, have we stopped to breathe in the crisp Fall air, eat all things pumpkin, and be thankful? I never thought about it before, but all the thanking prepared my heart for Christmas. I naturally turned my heart towards being grateful that God came to earth to be with us when I was well, being thankful.

Let’s not skip this time of giving thanks. Here are some cool ideas I have seen out and about that you and your students can try:

Handwritten “THANK YOU” Notes

Inspire your students to sit down and write two to five thank you notes to people who influence their lives. It can be parents, teachers, coaches or even you. Help them say thank you to those people who take the time to pour into them. For you sit down and write a couple of handwritten notes to your team. Everyone needs to hear thank you every so often, and I think it does every soul good to actually say it as well.

 Pour It On:

This is something you could do in small groups or give as a suggestion for the meal time at home. Take a vase and place it in a bowl. Give everyone a cup of water. Everyone goes around expressing thanks for things from the past year. When they do, they pour some water in the vase. The goal it to physically see it pour over. Get it? The whole cup runs over…literally.

Thank You Jar or Wall:

Keep a jar in a central place in your ministry. Have students keep one in their home. This is something you can do all year round. Every time they are thankful for something a small note is written and placed in the jar. Better yet, keep a wall with sticky notes available. Have students continuously fill the wall with ways they are thankful. Then take some time to read them all out loud.

I think my issue about overlooking Thanksgiving would be less if as a nation we were more focused on celebrating Emmanuel. Yet, it’s become more about getting than ever before. I think we need to inspire each other to have that attitude of gratitude. Thanksgiving has always been a great catalyst for this. It’s not just about the turkey or the football or the pilgrims. Let’s make sure we don’t skip it, I promise there’s still time.

What are you thankful for?


Hey Hairy #YMNation!

Great job last week sharing your mustache pictures with #fuzzyface! Everything continues this week with 2nd Annual Hairy Isn’t Scary Sale of up to 88% off on hundreds of youth ministry resources. Plus, get more chances to win awesome prizes with the Hairy Isn’t Scary social contest. Watch the video above to learn about this week’s challenge: 



Take a pic with a mustache or of someone else with an awesome goatee and post it on your favorite social media outlet with #fuzzyface to enter to win fun weekly prizes like a 1 year subscription to Dollar Shave Club or a special edition Andy Brazelton Christmas album pillowcase, and a chance at the following GRAND PRIZES:

  • Grand Prize – Xbox One!!!
  • 2nd - $250 Credit for LIVE Curriculum (conversation-based, editable youth min small group lessons) of your choice


Here are some favorites from last week’s mustache challenge!





Thanks for proving that Hairy Isn’t Scary!

- Amber and the SYM Team / @youthministry

Church Membership?

 —  November 14, 2014 — 4 Comments

Member Stamp Shows Membership Registration And SubscribingDoes church membership really matter?

You may not be the person in charge of this area of your congregation, but I’d presume you’ve heard this question before. Maybe you’ve even asked it yourself on occasion.

What’s your response?

Someone asked me recently, “Why do I need to be a member of any church? Why can’t I just as a Christian show up for Bible studies and services without all that red tape?”

I was exhausted at the time, so maybe my response was too candid. Still, I liked it as it rolled out of me:

“Why? Because you’re absolutely right. It isn’t necessary. It doesn’t matter. It’s a broken system. Many churches use it to gauge their effectiveness or build up arrogance at their numbers, and that’s a horrible idea. It’s a concept that people have rightfully grown suspicious of, and we shouldn’t even do it….

which is exactly why we do it.

It’s the same reason that you’re going to encourage your kids to get married versus live with someone, because you know that marriage is more than a piece of paper – even though society has made it feel like that’s all it is. It’s why you’re going to work on your health, even though you know your body will eventually surprise you – because maybe that gives you a better context to invest into others, even though you could just eat horribly everyday and think only of yourself.

band-of-brothersChurch membership may feel like blindly clicking ‘I agree’ on a software installation, but what if it’s more… what if it’s a chance to really link arms in a covenant relationship with others and know that much more how much you want to get each other’s backs? What if it’s agreeing to get into a foxhole on the battlefield and vowing to cover one direction of offense/defense so the people next to you can cover the other directions, and no one is insecure about it?

What if the reason membership matters is because in perceiving it doesn’t matter, we realize how much it matters?”

I don’t think he expected that answer.

He simply nodded and said, “Okay… wow, okay…”

foxhole_kidsWhat do you think?

Does church membership actually matter…

precisely because it doesn’t seem to matter?

How might you respond to someone’s question about it?