I love our youth nights, I love the buzz, the noise of the crowd, the Worship, the community, the teaching, well basically all of it. The experience of the gathered Church to me is rich, in tradition and off the charts in value. But as mush as I love the bigger stage, I have an equal passion for the relational one on one connection with students and have fought hard to maintain a level of relational connectedness to young people even in the midst of a demanding role in the wider church. When I am going to meet with a student for a coffee, a coke or just going for a walk there are a few questions that are guaranteed to be a part of the conversation.

1 What is something that you are excited about?

This is a great ice-breaker question, its disarming question and allows a student to talk about something they have an easy time talking about, themselves! This is also a strategic question because it gives me some event or opportunity that I can follow up with. If they are excited about their drivers test, a concert or a hot date, I now have intentional opening for a follow up conversation. Remembering these events and following up shows a student they are valued.

2 How are things going in your small group?

Our ministry has small groups on the same night as our youth gather, which means that 100% of our students are in small groups. As a leader there are certain areas of the culture that I can shape, but within the small groups exists its own community and culture and its important to know what is happening. Any chance you have to get a the straight goods on the pulse of ministry, you should take it because the growth and discipleship is happening in the small group more so than the large gather. Also finding out about a problem or challenge allows me I can’t help that leader navigate the scenario that I otherwise might not have known was a concern.

3- How is your heart?

I am so sold out to asking this question because it allows the transition into asking students how their relationship with God is, where they are experiencing Him or not. Asking a student about their heart allows the conversation to address where they feel encouraged and where they feel discourage and takes the conversation to a level of honestly faster than so how are you Really doing? Our leaders have been starting to latch onto the question and some of the students now have heard it enough that they jokingly ask me the same question. Its a great part of the changing culture of our ministry where we are trying to go deeper in our relationships with God and each other.

4 How can I pray for you?

This question is a must ask for obvious reasons, but any meaningful conversation with student that doesn’t include this question is a missed opportunity for me. Students need to know that we are here to journey beside them, to intercede on their behalf and intend to follow up with those things they are in need of prayer for. Praying for our students one on one, in the large group and privately is a core part of what we do.

These are just four of the many questions that we ask our students when we meet with them, are there questions that are on your must ask list?

-Geoff @geoffcstewart

We recently just wrapped up a series called “You Are Here” where we explored God’s purpose for our lives.  The fifth week of the series was on serving, the why and how. Of course, we wouldn’t be able to finish a weekend on serving without a “call to action.” Normally, that would be us having a ministry fair where students could go and sign up for the different ministry teams that our ministry and our church have to offer. The problem with ministry fairs are that only half the students that write their names down on the sign-up sheets actually take their commitment seriously. There seemed to be something missing. When we reflected on it, we thought it stemmed from a misunderstanding of their SHAPE and a misunderstanding of what serving God means.

Now you can have as many ministry teams and service projects as you want, but if you don’t paint a good portrait of serving, you’re going to have some problems getting students out there. So during the weekend, we talked about how the students were created to serve. That each of us is created to be serving in our own unique ways. Instead of following this up with a ministry fair, we decided to provide our students with the opportunity to have one-on-one time with a staff member to talk about their own personal SHAPE and how they can start serving in their church, school, and community.

So throughout the week, my teammate, Hannah, and I have been meeting with students and had some really awesome conversations. I would really recommend doing something similar to this. It has helped boost some of our ministry teams and it has helped me build new or stronger relationships with students in our ministry. Here are some things that I have learned while doing it:

-The goal is to help students see the big picture of their lives. They have all the pieces, they just need help putting them together. So the first part is just getting them to talk about themselves so you can figure out all of their pieces.  Here are a few of the questions that I usually ask:

  • Are you involved at your school?
  • Are you in any extra-curricular activities?
  • Have you ever served before? What was that experience like?
  • What do you think you are good at?
  • What do you love to do (anything counts here, even video games!)?
  • Have you ever thought about what your spiritual gifts might be (this one is always a long shot)?
  • Is there a particular people group that you have a passion for or a connection to (single mothers, hospitalized children, etc.)?
  • What’s your story?

-When you start suggesting serving ideas to them, keep in mind that serving doesn’t have to be joining a ministry team or coming to a service project. Serving can be them making better use of the situation that God has put them in. Meaning, serving for them could be being a light on their soccer team or getting involved with their school’s Christian club. But feel free to push the student out of their comfort zone and offer some big things like a weekend serving retreat or even a mission trip!

-You also don’t have to have all of the answers for them during your first meeting. The one-on-ones are opening up a door of communication up with the student where both of you can follow-up with each other later on.

If you’ve never heard of SHAPE or want more information on it, check out Doug Field’s book “Congratulations…You’re Gifted!” It is an awesome book and a really helpful way to look at how God has designed us!

Colton [Email||Twitter]

I got to have lunch with one of our new small group leaders recently and he asked me about some of the tricks that I had learned during my time leading a small group. Despite me only having 3 years of small group experience, I realized that I have learned a lot in that time. Here are a few of the tips that really stuck out for him:

This is an awesome idea that I got from a pastor in Virginia. It is essentially a “pass-book.” In it, the student has the freedom to write whatever they want to their leader. Be prepared for anything! I’ve gotten pictures of dinosaurs, movie reviews, knock-knock jokes, and much MUCH more! But I’ve also gotten students to open up about school frustrations and family troubles. The cool thing is that the leader collects these books at the end of every meeting so that they can read them and write back to them. I love the ministry that I have been able to do through the use of those journals. Sometimes, it can be hard to give each student the “one-on-one” time that they deserve, so this is an awesome way to give each student individual attention every week!

Traditions have been so key to the bonding that I have seen in my small group. Have your leaders be on the look out for things that would be fun and unique for their group to do. One of the biggest traditions for my group is our once-a-year “let’s talk about sex” party. Being a guys small group, sex is a topic that gets brought up weekly, but we make sure to take out a week or two out of the year to focus specifically on sex and purity. I go all out for this party. I make decorate the room (I usually wait until the Valentine’s stuff goes on sale), I make sure there is plenty of food, and I even bake a cake. It is super fun and my guys look forward to it every year. Encourage your leaders to find their group’s tradition!

For some this might seem like a given, but there are too many small groups out there that aren’t serving together. Serving is super important not only for the awesome bonding that is provides, but because the Bible calls the Church to be serving. Serving is a great way to mix up the traditional 30 minute lesson and allows students to be practicing what they have been learning. It also deepens relationships in the group. It is crazy to see the difference a service project can make to a groups chemistry and health! Try to provide your small group leaders with information on upcoming service opportunities that they can be taking their groups on!

What are some small group tips that you have?

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Coordinator at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at coltonharker@gmail.com or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.