puzzle 2

There we were. Our small groups simply weren’t “working.”  

Sure, there were weeks when leaders felt great about what they preached. It was usually the week when the same students would complain about their small group.

This is when I embarked on my grand experiment.

The goal:

  • To help students understand that Jesus is not a list of rules. When we come to grasp the depth of His unfailing love, that’s when we desire to live for Him.
  • Ultimately see students and adults come to know that their life with Christ starts NOW.

First I started with small group leaders. We brainstormed ideas and got their frustrations on the table.

There was a RETRAINING on approach of our leaders:
  • They have been reminded it’s not their job to save anyone. It’s the Holy Spirit’s “job” to move a heart. They have been encouraged to remember WHY we want students to live for Christ. (We love because He loved us first.)
  • Small group time is about HOW to be WITH Jesus, before you live FOR Jesus. There can be a horse before the cart. If their heart doesn’t belong totally to Him, then the desire to live “right” may or may not be there, it also may just become a series of rules they follow.
  • All curriculum, programming, and approach are just catalysts. Order creates a safe place for discussion. This also means that I allow my leaders to “teach at their own pace.”  It isn’t about getting “through the lesson.”  Instead, if students start asking the REAL questions about who Jesus is, then spend they spend their time there. It also means I allow each group to be at a different place in our curriculum. I check in and hold them accountable on how it is going.
  • Try and Fail. I am trying discussion, object lessons, interactions, experiences, videos, and anything else that draws this idea of being close to Christ to students.  As they are sharing their doubts, I am trying to find creative ways to explain ideas and get them involved. I am encouraging my leaders to do the same. If it doesn’t “work,” that’s alright.
  • You may be one of many. I needed to help leaders feel less “pressure” that they had to be the “ONE” that got through to a student finally. Sometimes it takes multiple voices and TIME for a student to move forward in their lives with Christ.
For students this has  meant:
  • They are opening up more and more deeply about how they TRULY feel about Christ. They are wrestling with WHO HE says He is versus what others have told them.
  • We are encouraging them to seek God with their whole heart and find Him. We are letting them know that the love of Christ isn’t “wishy-washy.”  Yes, He loves us right where we are, and He loves us too much to allow them to be “stuck” in a mediocre life wandering without Him. One practical way I do this is every day I “text” them a devotion.  It’s a simple idea and a verse or link to a verse. Then when we see each other I ask them what they learned this week.
  • Allow them the space to doubt. This one’s hard. It does not mean we just let them believe whatever they want about sin and it’s effect on our lives.  It’s now about pointing out WHY Jesus asks certain things of a life with Him.  It’s about sharing our own stories of joy with Him and regret without.

It’s messy.  It’s not easy.  As students share more and more I see the pain that is so deep. Many of them have already experienced abandonment, abuse and loss at such early ages.  They are angry and disappointed that God has allowed this. They are sharing so much. We are loving them.  Jesus is big enough for this and He’s up for the challenge.

I guess in short, the experiment is about realizing it’s ok to believe Jesus wants a generation to belong to Him totally today, and He will do the work it will take to get them there.

What do you think?

Let me know your thoughts!

Leneita

@leneitafix

Back to Jesus: Part One

Leneita Fix —  November 21, 2013 — 1 Comment

puzzle 1

 I totally revamped my approach to small groups in our ministry recently.

We have tried a multitude of curriculums, ideas, books, formulas and approaches. It has been topical and as simple as opening the Bible and walking verse by verse. Still I was finding an interesting trend. Many of my students who had grown up with us still stared at me blankly when I asked the question:

“What’s your relationship with Jesus look like?”

As I started to dig deeper, I learned some things about my students:

  • Many felt leaders cared more about them “acting right” than about what was going on in their lives.
  • Many felt like they had to get their life “right” BEFORE they could have “REAL” relationship with Christ.
  • Many felt like they are told by family members that it’s all about “church” whether they like “church” or not. This makes them not want to go to church.
  • Many felt like Jesus didn’t answer their prayers because He was too busy, didn’t truly care about the request, or because they were supposed to do more for themselves.
They knew who Jesus was. They admitted they didn’t KNOW Jesus.

What did this mean for my students?

  • Telling them the “do’s” and “don’t’s” of a life with Christ just felt like an attack and caused defensiveness. (Some well meaning leaders would tell them what music to listen to or what clothes to wear.)
  • They heard the Word but rarely listened to it. Even the most impassioned “speeches” were going in one ear and straight out. They weren’t applying it to their own lives on a daily basis.

What did this mean for my small group leaders?

  • In a desperate desire to get students to “live” for Jesus there was a tendency to lecture them on “right” and “wrong.”
  • They felt like they were on a “hamster wheel” to get students to change and live for Christ. They kept trying harder and harder to present the Gospel and students remained apathetic.

(In a discussion with one leader recently she actually used the words, “Just let me talk to them more, I can save them.”)

Ouch! This was becoming a lose/lose for everyone. No one felt heard or understood even when the “heart” was in the right place.

So I sat down, prayed, and decided to seek Jesus. I knew He wanted to reach these students in a way that caused them to understand His love. I knew it would take HIS salvation and moving and that I wouldn’t fine a “formula” to put into action.

So what did I do?  Tune in tomorrow to find out how I threw my small groups on their head.

Have you noticed any of these trends with your students or leaders?

Let me know your thoughts,

Leneita

@leneitafix



High School Live Curriculum   I have been using the LIVE Curriculum for the past 4 years…I love it and so do my volunteers. It is not just a great tech resource, it is a great youth ministry resource. Last year I added LIVE Junior High to our youth ministry scope and sequence and it was a HUGE WIN!

  • Low prep for leaders
  • Consistent format
  • Easily personalizable
  • Print unlimited hard copies for your team
  • Emailable to those leaders who want to personalize and print or to teach from their tablet
  • Parent letter for each lesson updating them on what their studnet’s small group went through
  • Price tag is super low! Less than $3.50 a lesson
  • DONE FOR THE YEAR…DONE FOREVER!!! (Well, you may want to tweek from year to year but ultimately if you know the lessons you want to use you can use the same scope and sequence from year to year)

With LIVE Curriculum I have shorter prep time each week and can better focus on students and leaders…and leaders have margin to invest more in their group.

Are you using LIVE Curriculum?  Is so, what is your favorite thing about it?

Recently, I got one of my good friends to help me co-lead my small group. Leading a small group is his very first taste of youth ministry and it has been such a cool thing to be a part of. One of the cool parts about helping him is realizing how much God has taught me about leading a small group over the past three years. I thought I would share three of the most important lessons that I shared with him:

-It’s all about the discussion! Small group isn’t the place the lecture. Too often, small group leaders take up their entire lesson sharing what they want to talk about. While I admire their passion for sharing what God has put on their heart, small group is a place where students learn and discover, and a part of the process is making them do a little work. Small group is a place for students to grow together as a group. They should be processing and engaging with each other. As a small group leader, we are simply there to facilitate a conversation. Always find a way to get them talking and engaging with the material. They should be speaking WAY more than you should be.

-Meet them where they are at. I feel like this is something that many first year small group leaders struggle with. Part of being a small group leader is being intuitive. You need to be able to feel out where your students are at. I think some first time leaders go into it expecting high school students to know a lot about the Bible already, so they plan lessons about advanced doctrine. The truth is, many students aren’t ready for that, many students still can’t even tell you the Gospel! We have to see where are students are at in their faith and meet them there. Don’t wait for them to catch up to where you want them to be, go back and help them get there.

-You have to invest in social stock. I was talking with a small group leader about spending time with students and he didn’t see the point of just getting lunch with a student without a deep, life-changing conversation. What he hadn’t realized yet is the power of social stock. You can’t expect every student to immediately open up to you. You need to build social stock. Every inside joke, every Starbucks run, every midnight Denny’s breakfast builds your stock with them, allowing them to learn to respect you, trust you, and feel comfortable being vulnerable around you. Social stock is what takes a student from just hearing you, to listening to you. It is what lets you speak truth into their lives. This social stock is one of the most powerful tools we have in relational ministry.

What is one thing you would make sure to tell a first time small group leader?

Colton [Email||Twitter]



Why Small Groups Last

Chris Wesley —  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)

Most youth workers I know have one thing in common…they try to do too much. Many of us are perfectionists. Many leaders care so much that they give too much. Many leaders don’t know how to recruit. Sometimes we just reach teens quickly and we seem to never be able to catch up.

I have been that guy trying to do everything. I finally started asking for help but I made a critical mistake. I started dumping responsibility on people who were willing instead of looking for leaders who could partner with me in ministry. When you dump responsibility you look for a willing person and give them stuff to do that you don’t want to mess with. You basically ask them to do the work and leave you alone so you can do other things. Sure, it helps for the short term but when they have other things to do they will hand you back the responsibility. I leaned in the process I needed sharp leaders who would partner with me in ministry so they understood the why behind the what! Here are four kinds of leaders we need to be empowering…

  • Small Group Leaders / these are leaders who will invest in teens intentionally like you wish you could do for every teen. They will mentor, guide, clarify, instruct, encourage, and pray for teens on a weekly basis. These leaders are extensions of you doing youth ministry and they are the most important partners you will have.
  • Detail Leaders /  these are leaders who are gifted administratively and can help you by talking care of the details that bog us down on a weekly basis. These leaders can organize, delegate, and systematize but they may not be great with teens. Let them thrive in the detail so you can lead the big picture!
  • Presence Leaders / these are leaders who care for teens but may not be ready to lead a small group. They just want to serve teens and help where needed when they are available. They love teens and they love your ministry but they have other things that pull them away from leading a small group. Let them run a cafe, work the parking lot, or help run games during programing.
  • Tech Leaders / these are leaders who love the digital side of what we do but may not be good at other areas of student ministry! Let them make your environment look , feel, and sound better.

What are some “leader types” that you empowered and they made you and your ministry better? What keeps you from empowering leaders?

Michael Bayne is Family and Student Pastor at Grace Community Church, Clarksville TN. Follow him on Twitter at @michael_bayne and read more of his writing at www.michaelbayne.net



Are You a Volunteer?

Geoff Stewart —  October 31, 2012 — 3 Comments

A few weeks ago our leadership team gathered in my tiny town home for ice cream sundaes, talking, praying and planning the next few months. Whenever we meet I always make a point to thank them for giving up so much of their personal time to serve the Kingdom by loving students. Our team members on average serve 6 hours per week on top of full time jobs and or university.  I am humbled by the commitment of my volunteers, as they give up hundreds of hours a year.

One thing that new members of our volunteer team find surprising is that all the paid staff in the youth department are all volunteers as well. We work during the day and at 5pm on our youth night we become volunteers. When they ask why, my answer is simple: How could I ask you to do something that I wouldn’t do myself?

It seems obvious to me that we would serve alongside our leaders and give as much or more as they do, modelling a servant-like attitude. I recognize for some it is not that easy due to multiple services or multi-event weeks, but at a minimum should we not serve as a volunteer for the same amount of hours as an average volunteer in our ministry?

Maybe you coach a team or serve somewhere else but I have to ask, shouldn’t we be volunteers too?

Geoff – (Twitter)

My of my great joys in ministry is being able to train volunteer and youth workers from different Churches and work to equip them to leader better. One of the most important things that I try and help them understand is that they have a voice in their student’s lives that is unlike any other. Students have all kinds of people that influence them and when it comes to adults in their lives, teachers, parents and youth workers are often the big three.

But it’s important that we recognize that our voice is unlike any other in the life of High School students and here is why:

Our Voice is Unique: When it comes to adults in a teen’s life, at some point they have to listen to their parents and they have to listen to their teachers as well.  Students don’t have to listen to us, they choose to. They have to go to school, have to live at home, but choose to go to youth group. The fact that students choose to listen to us means that our voice has weight and influence.  We can meet a student for coffee; something they might be mortified to do with their parent and not allowed to do with a teacher, it’s a great setup for us.

Our Voice Is Respected: When students choose to listen to us, it’s a statement of respect that they value what we say.  Being a youth worker is a bit of a hybrid of the friend / mentor role and with that comes the ability to speak into the life of a student with wisdom and life experience. When our voice is respected, our lives are as well so be mindful of what you endorse, intentionally or accidentally.

Our Voice Can Be Objective:  Being slightly removed from life at home and life at school coupled with the relationship we have with students gives us a unique perspective that has little obvious bias other than to uphold Biblical values. Helping students to look outside themselves and to look at a situation in a different way is challenging but doable. This is a keen opportunity for us to help students experience Matthew 5 conflict resolution and encourage them through the process as a supportive third party.

Recognizing my unique voice was a bit of a Spider-man moment for me, you know? – With great power comes great responsibility, but a better example would be in Luke 12:48 “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded”.  You have an incredibly powerful and influential voice in the life of a young person. Use it wisely to pour into them, challenge them and build them up into young men and women after God’s own heart. We need to know this, our leaders need to know this.

-Geoff (Twitter)