This week’s poll – how many of your small group leaders from last year are returning to groups this Fall? And if you’re up to leave a comment, what would be considered a healthy/typical/normal drop out rate year-to-year?


August is here – summer programs are winding down and school is about to begin. Scratch that – for more than half the country, kids are already in classes this week! You’re heading toward the Fall kickoff of your youth ministry, and thinking about what’s next. I posted When to Buy Youth Ministry Resources last August, but thought something tangible with solid suggestions for the fall might be a good idea as well. Here are the questions I’m asking with a couple weeks to go before our official kickoff:

1. Is your youth ministry service ready to go?
Take the time to lay out the fall teaching calendar. Create or purchase a teaching series that is compelling and make it easy for your students to bring their non-believing friends. The start of the school year is one of the most opportune times for Friendship Evangelism. Then think about the atmosphere that first-time student will walk into – are a few crowd games or a cell phone poll the way to go? Is the room setup ideally for what you’re trying to accomplish? Do you have a way to contact students during the week? How can you give your youth group a jolt of fresh energy this Fall? Suggestions: 2nd Greatest Story Every Told, Heart of a Champion, Awaken Your Creativity

2. Are your small group leaders and volunteers trained?
Capitalize on the fall to get some good reading into the hands of your leaders or good material into your hands for training meetings. Suggestions: Youth Worker Training on the Go, Emergency Response Handbook for Youth Ministry, Connect

3. What are you reading for your personal development?
You meant to read a few good books over the summer – and honestly, they’re still in the bottom of your backpack. Take them out and get cracking! If you’re looking for a good book Terrace had a good list for young influencers and Kurt’s new book The 9 Best Practices of Youth Ministry looks challenging. My favorite book this summer was Linchpin. Pick up a book for your own development. Suggestions: Tribes, Switch, Steering Through Chaos, Crazy Love, The Next Generation Leader

4. What is it time to launch?
For us we’re talking about helping hurting students, so we’re concentrating on our pastoral care program for teenagers who are at risk. You’ve got the pulse of your student ministry – what is it time to launch? Or maybe what is it time to re-launch? Maybe it is time to stop something, so this January you can breath new life into it? Suggestions: The Landing, Help! I’m a Student Leader, LeaderTreks



Journaled a little bit last week about pastoral care – how we’re called to care for the wounds of the students that have been entrusted to us as youth workers. In the setup we’re launching soon, we’ll have a 3-pronged approach to helping students with the hurts in their lives. Here’s the breakdown:

Small group leaders
One of the most effective groups of pastoral care volunteers in our ministry are the small group leaders. Students that have taken a step beyond the entry-level program of the weekend service come to experience being known, loved and cared for. When they have a problem (or a celebration, for that matter) they most often turn to “their pastor” – a title we’ve quick to award these amazing leaders. The majority (that part isn’t represented well in my Moleskin drawing above, sorry) of struggles and issues are addressed personally and directly here.

Pastoral care volunteers
This is the area where we have a great opportunity to build, we don’t have this yet so I’m talking in more ideal than real. What if there was a team of adults who pray for, counsel, guide and respond to students in need? If a student doesn’t have a small group leader, or needs more than what that leader can provide, we have a response. When a student is looking for prayer on the weekend, there’s a place for them to go. When they finally get up the nerve to call or Facebook, someone is quick to respond back.

The Landing (check out this program in detail here)
On the other end of the spectrum there are kids dealing with major life issues perhaps considered to be “above the pay grade” of the care team or their small group leader. And while we hope leaders know they can take on anything, we want to offer a program with specifically trained and called volunteers who’ve “seen it all” and can help coach and love these students through recovery. That’s where The Landing comes into play – a Celebrate Recovery for students that is available every Friday night of the year.

How do you care for students? Just thinking out loud today – hoping it triggers and idea to care for your students, too!


Thought Matt and Doug had a great series of questions for small group leaders to ask their students – getting to know your kids or getting to know them better. Head there for the whole list and some tips on how to use them, and if you’re not getting the daily email from - sign up for it (it is FREE and awesome) right here.

35 trigger questions to spark conversation:
1. How are you involved at your school? (Clubs, cheer, band, sports?)
2. What was a highlight of your week?
3. What is something you did this summer that was fun?
4. What is your absolute favorite thing to do?
5. If you could have free tickets to any concert, where/who would it be?
6. What is your favorite subject at school?
7. Who is your favorite teacher and what do you like about him/her?
8. Are you the type who gets things done early or waits till the last minute?
9. What do you normally do when you have free time?
10. Where’s your favorite place to eat?
11. What’s the best Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
12. What’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you?


Pleased to announce that Alaina Hart has officially joined the HSM team here at Saddleback – she’s my new assistant and the team admin. We promoted from within yet again, Alaina is a great small group leader and now on staff helping us pull of great stuff behind the scenes. If you ever call HSM, you’re probably talk to her – at least, when she returns from Paris on a mission trip she’s on this week. So glad to have her on the team!


One of our small group leaders named Dennis (who runs had a great post about challenging his small group boys with next steps over the summer. Some good stuff in

1. Grow spiritually! Just as they should be further along spiritually than they were when the school year began, they should be further along spiritually in the Fall when we come back together for small groups. To help them do that, I remind them of some of our discipleship tools (HABITS — see the link below) they can do on their own. I actually have a few copies there so they can take something with them if they choose.

2. Stay connected! Even though we are not having small groups over the summer, there are plenty of ways for them to stay connected through the church. I have plenty of our ministry’s summer calendars so those who don’t already have them can grab one. I especially highlight our summer camp because that’s where the best connections and spiritual decisions are made.


Loved this free eBook from Matt McGill and the team – 24 Do’s and Don’ts for Small Group Leaders. Some good stuff to adapt for your leaders or print out and use as is. Check it out! Here’s a clip:

13. Do be delicate when correcting.Your students will say something that’s way off track…that’s OK! Think of all the stupid things you’ve ever said… You can begin with, “on the surface, that seems right…” or “I used to think that too…” (if you did!). There’s no one size fits all, but be gentle, or no one will want to risk and share again.

14. Don’t feel like you have to finish, complete, or correct a student’s answer. Everything said in your small group doesn’t have to be “right” or “fixed.”

15. Do be honest if you don’t know an answer. No one knows everything; it’s OK if you can’t answer a question. Be gracious, admit your ignorance, and look for answers for your next meeting. Not knowing an answer can encourage your students a ton.

16. Don’t read questions off the leader’s guide. If you are prepared, you’ll only need to glance at your notes.

17. Do put the questions into your own language. Be natural and communicate the same questions in your own words.

18. Don’t be too scripted. Preparation is great, but so is flexibility! Making changes on the fly is OK, even necessary at times. Knowing where you want your students to end (your objectives) is key. Keep your group focused while remaining flexible.


It wasn’t that long ago a small group leader in our ministry called me to talk about a big mistake he had made. It involved a group of guys, Buffalo wings, and a little restaurant called … Hooters. The next few hours after that phone call were critical–we were fortunate that it was an experienced volunteer who followed these three steps to re-establish trust with the parents of the kids involved. Here’s what we did:

Own it without excuses
There is nothing like just owning a mistake that you made; honesty and openness are essential for rebuilding trust. The last thing you would want to do is to minimize what happened and pretend it isn’t a big deal. It is a big deal, and it needs an owner. You committed the foul, so take your lumps.

Apologize for what you’ve done and start over
So you’ve been honest about what happened; now it is time to apologize for it and admit you were wrong. This isn’t going to be easy, but it is a sign of humility, repentance, and your humanity. I always tell my leaders, don’t try to appear perfect because it doesn’t set a realistic example for your students to follow.

Earn the trust back one good decision at a time
It might take some time, but work hard not to repeat the same bad decision and play it safe. You are a leader and it is time to get back to leading again. A great way to communicate your good-faith effort is to invite a co-leader into your group or on events with you. Another great trust-building exercise is to give detailed plans of your intentions at least a week in advance. This will give parents an opportunity to address concerns and peace of mind that your plans are sound.

Keep in mind: The longer you’ve served and the more deposits you’ve made into the longevity bank, the more you will be trusted despite a few setbacks.