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Small groups was our very first request for a topic (you can send your topic requests to talkaboutym@gmail.com). So here we go!

Small Groups are the lifeblood for many youth ministries, and for good reason! I’ve often said that if I was told by our Pastor that we could only do ONE thing in our ministry the one thing we would do is small groups. Workshops have been taught and books written on the topic, and today we add a few simple “Good, Bad and #SMH” thoughts of our own on the newest episode of “Let’s Talk About Youth Ministry”.

As my high school group of guys have grown older I’ve noticed the amount or responsibilities and conflicts in schedule have grown.  Because our groups meet every Thursday night it’s easy for them to miss a week here and there.  However, as the obstacles and alternate opportunities grow their attendance starts to falter.  They tell me they love being their; however, they are just so bogged down with:

  • School Work
  • Sports Practice
  • Responsibilities At Home

I’m sure this list could continuously go on for many of you and that your groups face similar challenges.  The key to keeping the group strong is to enable it to grow outside of your allotted time.  That means connecting with teens multiple times during the week in a variety of ways.

That might seem fine to you; however, overwhelming to your volunteers. If you introduce that idea to them there might be push back or reluctance, and that’s okay.  You just need to help and show them how to grow outside the designated time.  To do that:

  • Give Leaders An Out – From time to time give your small group leaders permission to do something outside of the usual time or agenda.  Because time is so valuable allow them to sacrifice a night of the “usual youth ministry” to do something different.  Challenge them to embark in a service project instead of discussing service.  Encourage them to do something social that will build camaraderie.  Give them permission “to play”.
  • Extend An Invitation - Many leaders might not know where to start when it comes to investing in their group outside the weekend.  Invite them to join you when you are heading out to a game (Where their teens might be present) or on an outing your group might be planning.  By extending an invitation you are leading by example. 
  • Set Them Up For Success - On top of extending an invitation to join you equip them with resources that will help them connect with teens outside the group.  That might mean training them on social media etiquette, or giving them the tools for planning a night of laser tag.  As the youth minister of your church you have a wealth of resources and knowledge that your volunteers need access.  

The more a group can grow outside of the weekend or it’s usual time the stronger it will become.  It will teach the teens how to build relationships outside of a youth ministry setting.  It will also build confidence in your leaders because they’ll feel like they have ownership.  When your leaders are motivated to lead outside the group it extends your capacity to be present in the community.

How do you help your volunteers connect with teens outside the designated time?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)


Andrew suggested this week’s poll question: when and where do your small groups meet? Would love to know what you’re doing and help others get an idea about what’s out there, too! In my current ministry we have small groups during the week, unattached to a program. How about you? Vote now!

JG

Why Small Groups Last

 —  December 20, 2012 — 1 Comment

As my small group of high school guys entered into their junior year of high school I remember feeling a little anxiety.  Typically this is the year that small groups are tested because of the amount of distractions and obstacles the students face.  Teens are beginning to think about college, and classes are more intense.  For many of them they are making the varsity team which means a different commitment.  Some of them are looking to get their driver’s license, which means they have a little more freedom and a little less accountability to show up from their parents.  As the teens get older, their commitment to the group is tested.

But, there are those groups that last.  There are those groups that not only stay strong; but, withstand the transitions of seasons.  Why is that?  Is it the leader? The teens?  While those are huge factors there are a few steps every leader should take to ensure their small groups last through the years.  Those steps are:

Communicating Consistently – Your group needs to hear your voice more than just at the weekly gatherings.  Check-in with them during the week.  Talk with their parents.  Make your relationship with them consistent.  Communicating consistently helps you become a regular voice in their life.  Whether it’s an invitation to join group each week or a shout out on Twitter, letting them know you’re invested will go far.

Meeting Outside The Usual – On top of your weekly gatherings try to get together for a mission project or fellowship gathering.  It’s easy to forget how hard it is for these teens to find healthy social opportunities.  By getting them together outside of the small group you turn it from a “church” thing into a life group.

Connecting One On One – It might be a challenge, but when you can meet one on one with your teens you begin to understand the dynamics of the group.  This helps you lead discussions in your group in a way that promotes depth.  The teens will feel like you know them personally because of your private conversations.  It will encourage them to open up in ways they couldn’t have before.

Setting Goals And Vision – Every church needs goals and vision.  Doesn’t matter if it’s thousands of people or half a dozen, without vision the people will perish.  Your small group needs goals and vision to grow and go deeper.  It allows the group to go from a social hour into something lasting.

Leading a small group is an investment.  It will be tested; however, by getting to know each individual and challenging them with different opportunities, the group will strengthen.

How do you strengthen your small groups?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)


HSM’s Life Groups are divided by grade, gender and geography – you can read more about that right here. Curious about your situation and was hoping you would vote in today’s poll – are your small groups divided by gender? Vote now.

JG

What makes a great small group discussion for you?  Is it the teens consistently talking?  Is it about controversial debates?  Is it one teen opening up about a huge issue in their life?  What makes a great small group discussion will differ from person to person; however, if what you are talking about isn’t bringing the group closer together and to Christ you might want to rethink structure and content.

While you can’t force deep and engaging conversation there are things you can do to create a framework that will make them possible.

Some of those factors are:

Preparing Your Team In Advance – Not that conversations need to be orchestrated; however, if you want teens to go deeper in certain areas of their faith you need to create a path to lead them down.  This means preparing your small group ministers to lead them.  Get them the questions out early enough, make sure they don’t have any questions and give them resources to widen their knowledge of the subject.

Setting Up The Right Environment – If teens are uncomfortable they’ll be distracted from engaging in conversation.  Make sure the room is clean, comfortable and set up for engaging conversation.

Embracing Silence – If it’s a heavy subject give them the time to process the question.  The tendency is to blow through the questions because silence is awkward; however, you might be cutting off a thought, question or idea that will move the discussion to a deeper level.

Gauging The Mood – It might not be the right night to talk about certain subjects; therefore, don’t force it.  If there is pushback on a subject ask the teens, “Why?” if they aren’t ready to talk about it, then have the conversation move to something they want to discuss.  By gauging the mood you are showing them that you care about what’s on their heart and mind.

Great discussions are ones that move us into a deeper relationship with one another.  However, don’t get frustrated if every small group isn’t profound and deep.  There are going to be times when you are amazed by what comes forth and others when you feel like a failure.  Small groups need to be organic, which means growth.  But a small group that grows through discussion is one that will strengthen and last.

What else can create great discussion in small group?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more great youth ministry articles and thoughts on his exceptional blog Marathon Youth Ministry.

•Small groups are messy. Really messy.
•Small groups are a logistical hassle. Meeting in homes only adds to the chaos.
•Small groups require lots of leaders.
•Small groups need constant attention and maintenance.
•In short…small groups can feel like a BIG pain.

But … small groups are totally worth it.

Here are 4 reasons why we think small groups are a big deal. Feel free to add your own (or a dissenting opinion) in the comments section:

Small groups help make invisible students visible
I (Josh) have 4 kids of my own – a couple of them are going to spend their lives being the center of attention and the other 2 are probably going to enjoy contributing on occasion but usually just fading into the background and allowing someone else to take center stage. Small groups put every student in a position to contribute and be challenged. A church that only gathers in the large group setting is encouraging only the faithful, vocal few to truly participate…others may attend, but very few participate. Small groups help make the typically invisible student a little more visible.

Small groups make any size church feel like home
It really doesn’t matter how big your youth ministry is – it is going to feel unwelcoming or even cold to some degree to an outsider. But when a student is invited into a small group… with only a handful of others it begins to feel warmer and more inviting. Personally, we love small groups in homes because this helps them feel even warmer.

Small groups create a youth pastor minor league
Looking to turn regular men and women into great youth workers? Give them a few seasons in small groups and you’ll be amazed at how their heart and their skills grow, and so will they! Small groups give plenty of opportunities for young leaders to shine. Instead of a personality-driven ministry , a strong small group strategy provides opportunities for lots and lots of youth pastors within one ministry.

Small groups produce Godly students
OK, this one isn’t guaranteed, but a small group environment does allow a great leader to be placed over, care for and disciple a handful of students. You can rest a little easier when a student gets connected in a small group – because you know they have a much better chance of their faith sticking because of the relationships that have been set in motion.

Do you think small groups are worth it? Why or why not?

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.

This year we’ve trying a fun new idea that we’ve been cooking for small groups – we’ve just launched HSM’s Life Group Leagues!

From time to time throughout the small group year we’re going to host a few casual sports nights here at the church where groups can participate in some fun activities like volleyball, ping pong or basketball. The games are all for fun, not highly competitive and simply give small groups a chance to take a break from the pace of the year and have some fun together.

I’ve always liked the idea of intramural sports in college and wondered if it would translate to high school ministry. We’re off to a great start so far – thought the idea might be a good one to share here, too!

JG