Here’s a shot from this weekend – we gathered up a bunch of students on stage to say goodbye to a couple of long-time staff members and friends. Jared (on staff a few years ago focusing on Student Leadership) and Alanna (on staff currently as worship/music coordinator) are headed to Virginia as youth workers at a great church there. Made me think about something I’ve been learning the last few weeks again – part of youth ministry is saying goodbye:

Goodbye to graduating seniors
This is the time of year when you have to say goodbye to students that have hit for the cycle and are heading out. Some seniors you may be pretty excited to say goodbye to and some you will literally shed tears over. Either way, saying goodbye is part of the gig.

Goodbye to great volunteers
The end of the school year is also a time when volunteers start to think about what’s next. Small group leaders that finish with seniors might think about moving to another ministry. Life stage changes mess with availability and commitments, and parting ways with your student ministry might be part of that evolution.

Goodbye to great members of the staff
This is the toughest – sometimes people on your church staff transition, too. This isn’t always a bad thing! Could be a great promotion, a clear calling from God, a chance to take a step of faith to whatever it is that God has next.

Of course, remember that the end doesn’t have to be the end. The relationships you build with students, volunteers and staff can last way beyond the years where your paths intersect directly. Either way, youth workers who come to terms with having to say goodbye is wise.

JG

Was talking to one of our small group leaders this weekend – he told me a story about how his small group got on the subject of sex the other night and how he handled it.

The boys had varied opinions on sex and were freely commenting about how far was too far, girls and using protection. One of the boys blurted out, “What’s the big deal with it all – that’s why you wear a condom.” The comment was met with silence … then the leader said how that among other reasons like abstinence and God’s plan for sex, 17% of the time condoms fail and you could be in serious trouble.

One of the other students in the small group said, “Yeah, it’s like playing Russian Roulette when you do that. Totally not worth it.” He grabbed out his iPhone and fired up the Russian Roulette app. They they took turns pulling the virtual trigger around the room, one kid at a time.

Click. Click. Click. Click. Bang. The “condom comment” kid got shot.

I suppose you just pray and close after that, right?

JG



FIRST … determine who really needs to be corrected:

If it is a group problem, address it as a group.

If it’s a couple of people, pull them aside together.

If it is an individual problem, address the individual.

THEN … talk to the appropriate people.

Pull them aside
Don’t pull off a major correction in front of the whole group; make sure you pull people aside after group time and begin a conversation. If you are fortunate enough to have a co-leader and the situation is distractive enough, the co-leader could remove the student.

Be clear on what they’re doing wrong
Address the problem directly. If it is causing a problem with the whole group, help the student to see how his or her actions are distracting everyone. Usually a student will know, but some are so self-absorbed, they don’t realize how they are affecting those around them.

Show grace
Be quick to show grace in this situation. You did it–you initiated the conversation and asked them to make the change. Be strong and firm, but followed quickly by love, mercy, and grace. The more seasoned the youth worker, the easier it usually is to show grace. If you are new to youth ministry, carefully temper your response. A line I used last night that had an immediate and positive response was, “You will never do that again.” Sometimes solving a behavioral issue will be that simple.

Look for and encourage correct behavior
Be on the lookout for when the student follows your rules–when you see it, make sure you comment on it and encourage the student when he or she has a good night. Your affirmation will be meaningful and restorative.

Followup later after a set amount of time
If appropriate, set a follow-up date to make sure that the student has made the appropriate changes. Use this time to build a stronger relational connection with your student–the bond will prevent it from happening again–or if it does happen again, you’ll have an open door to correcting the behavior.

JG

If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding. Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor (Proverbs 15:31-33).

Some suggested youth ministry resources to help small group leaders:
sg_bundle small_groups_leadertreks

I liked Dennis’ post this morning about good questions to ask students on a mission trip. We’re on a great trip right now, and would love it if these ministry-building questions were in our conversation!

We’re on a mission trip this week. This is the prime recruiting ground to move students toward a next step. To get those conversations started, I’ll ask students these questions:

1. Who is your small group leader? Many times the answer is, “I’m not in a small group.” by the end of the trip, my goal is to introduce them to students from their school who are in a small group the student can attend.

2. Which weekend service do you attend? If the answer is, “I don’t attend one,” I take the same action as #1 above, but it doesn’t matter as much if the students go to their school.

If the students says he’d go, but doesn’t have a ride, I immediately connect him with somebody near his who will give him a ride. At the end of the trip I remind them to connect about carpooling to church. This is also a great relationship-building strategy.

JG



I’m in the last few rounds of edits on my next book, 99 Thoughts for Small Group Leaders (coming this summer from Group). It is due this week to the editor – so far so good, been having a blast writing new training material, mining old blog posts, and asking a few friends to contribute to some sidebar insight as well. I just finished up an early section essentially bringing small group leaders up to speed on the type of students they’ll be ministering to. Thought it might be helpful to you or to pass along to the team – enjoy:

Thanks for jumping in and being a small group leader! Your service to God’s work will not go unnoticed. So what exactly are we dealing with here?

The typical student is quickly adopting the lifestyle of their parents — fast and furious. In our student ministry we recently asked students what the number one issue was in their lives — they answered, “dealing with stress.” They are thinking about college earlier than ever before with an already packed schedule. Not a minute passes without them being bombarded with twisted messages of sexuality from reality shows or musical acts, driving them to think a lot about the opposite sex.

Typical students live and die by their cell phones — their thumbs can text faster than you can type. Social networking is important — they’re online most hours a day looking at screens. Their worldview is being shaped by people who advocate tolerance but shut down most expressions of faith. They are very interested in the being spiritual but not necessarily Christianity. They are searching frantically for acceptance and consistency.

And that’s where you come in.

[ ] If you are young … things aren’t much different than when you were in school but be careful not to be overconfident in your ability to relate to them.

[ ] If you are old … things might feel very different from when you grew up and you might be intimidated by that prospect or feel out of touch.

Here’s what hasn’t changed; no matter your age coming into this, students still need love, acceptance and care. They desire to be known and need to be pointed to Jesus. Hear this: you are the hope. You are the small group leader. You are their guide to navigating this crazy world we live in. And you can do it.

JG

One of my good friends and co-workers announced that he is leaving his job the other day.
The good news is that it was no big deal to the volunteers who he announced it to! Though, it probably would have been good for the ol’ ego for there to be weeping and gnashing of teeth, the truth is, this response is an indicator that he did a great job!
One of my biggest pet peeves in youth ministry is to see a young leader get a promotion and then watch that young leader’s program die.
It has nothing to do with the fact that I think the leader shouldn’t have taken the promotion. It’s not that I think the only commitment you should ever have is to youth. Let’s face it.

Number one…this is tough work and there are few who can do it for years at a time.

Secondly….Youth Pastors are often thought of as the minor leagues for “The Big Show.” This is the way the system has developed. Student pastors are the future leadership of the church. But this is a topic for another time.
So…back to my issue. Why do we see this pattern across the country? A new person coming in, a youth group growing, that person leaving, and the youth group dying…waiting for the next big personality? Come to think of it…why is that the pattern we see in the church in general?
I think the problem is us!
We can be pretty cool. We are relational, so people are attracted to us. We have vision, so people are inspired by us. We are creative and do a bunch of interesting and new stuff, so people like to come see what we do. People dig us. And therein lies the problem…right there in front of our eyes. It’s us.

In my world at North Point Xtreme, our anchor is the small group leader. The only thing consistent every week is the same small group leader with the same group of kids. When my friend, with an identical program, announced he was leaving today, it was not a big deal. When I leave, the show will go on the same way. (I’m not saying it will be easy on my ego.)

Great speakers (the hooks) come inside our student ministry and then go on to do great things on bigger stages. Great bands (also hooks) minister to our kids, are developed, and head on to “Big Church.” They go to the “Show!” I love it when that happens…and the ministry keeps growing and doesn’t miss a beat!

So…I hope you are incredibly talented, passionate, and an amazing vision caster…but the truth is, You may be a great hook…but…it’s not about you…it can’t be about you.

Is your ministry built around a hook or an anchor? What are you doing to make sure your ministry outlives you?

Tom Shefchunas is the Multi-Campus Director of Middle School @ North Point Community Church. Hit up his blog in your Google Reader for sure!



My friend and former intern Josh Pease (now heading out in a speaking/writing career) wrote me the other day about some new ideas he’s trying with his rather large small group. I asked him to share a bit more for the blog, and here’s his thoughts. Hope it is helpful!

Being a small group leader — by its very nature — is difficult. And the bigger the group, the harder it is.

My group currently runs anywhere from 11-15 students, and the energy I’ve used trying to get them to focus for 40 minutes of lesson is ridiculous. For the last couple years it seemed I spent more time telling people to be quiet than teaching them.

That is until about a month ago, when I completely revamped how our small group operates. The changes I’ve made have led to us having our best month of small group in the 3 years we’ve been together. And while I’m not saying it makes everything perfect … it’s working really well for me. So if you have a bigger small group — and are feeling frustrated — here’s a quick look at someting that has helped me.

The day of small group — I text my guys with the passage of Scripture we’ll be reading that night, a reminder to bring their Bibles, and a couple questions to think about if they decide to read the verses in advance (only a couple do … but hey).

7-7:15 — My guys trickle in. When I feel like most people are there we start off with “Story Time with Devon” (he always has a crazy event from the last week to share. I only mention this because it sort of helps in getting people quiet). I then recap the passage & questions from the text and tell them to break up into their groups.

7:15-7:45 – Everyone breaks into groups of 3-4 people. These groups — which are the same each week — were divided by me to hopefully be socially comfortable (hey, my friend is in here!) but also a little challenging (hey … I’ve never spoke two sentences to this guy!). Spending time really creating a good relational mix for each group was important. Spiritually mature with immature. Distracted with focused. It takes time to find the right tensions, but is worth it.

Each group is led by a student who I see as one of our spiritual leaders and who I’ve explained the new vision to and asked to help (I invited the guys I wanted to lead to my house on Sat. morning for breakfast). The leader’s job is simple: keep the group on task. Make sure the group reads. Encourage them to ask and answer questions — the ones I gave them but also, hopefully, their own insights.

7:45-8:20 – The groups come back together. Here’s where the payoff for ME kicks in. Because my guys have already read the Scripture AND been thinking about it, they’re more inclined to participate. Rather than me doing a “cold open” where I have to convince them they should listen, they already have questions they want to know the answers to. Or things they’ve thought of and want to share. At the very least they’re more likely to answer questions I ask. And I think there’s something about having been in a smaller group for 30 minutes that makes them a little calmer too.

The key I’ve found in this time is to let them drive the discussion (I simply open up the floor to any questions/insights they had), but slowly leading them to a key idea from the passage that I think is important. So if we’re reading about the woman at the well, and the question I gave them is “what obstacles were in the way of Jesus talking to this woman?” then I will slowly ask follow up questions to their answers. The goal is for them to see how the obstacles between Jesus and the woman aren’t that different from obstacles they face when talking to people about Jesus.

Usually by this point, there’s a cool “ah ha!” moment where a Bible passage they’ve already engaged personally becomes alive to them.

8:20-? – I then send students back into their same groups to pray together. Usually I encourage them to pray about something directly connected to what they just read. Again, the student leader drives this conversation, but in a very laid back way. His job is to make sure everyone is encouraged to share if they want. What I’ve found is that — since my guys largely drive themselves to/from group– they will continue to hang out well past our 8:30 end time, just catching up with each other.

So basically in one small group night: our students spend at least 45 minutes in groups where they know everyone and feel listened to, they engage the Bible on their own, that story is made relevant to their life, they gain some keys on how to read the Bible for themselves hopefully, every person gets a chance to pray/be prayed for, and all I have to do is lead 30 minutes of discussion where most of my job is simply to ask follow up questions.

It’s been pretty nice.

This is the time of year when small group leaders get into the thick of real-life and students get extra busy toward the end of the semester. Both the leadership and students face pressures this time of year and momentum starts to stumble after the holidays. Look for these indicators that it might be time to bring in some help if one of your small groups starts to hit these walls:

+ Your Group is Too Big
This is a GOOD problem — but it is a problem. When a group grows, it’ll lose some of the magic that made it so attractive to new students in the first place. More importantly you’ll also lose the intimacy and community that make a small group special. You might not need to divide up the group totally, just consider adding a co-leader to help you break up the group for times of discussion and accountability.

+ You Cancel Too Often
It might be time to get a small group leader if you find yourself having to cancel more often than you would like. People travel, schedules change, duty calls. But if it is calling too often, consider bringing in the cavalry to pitch in while you’re out.

+ Your Group is Getting Your Leftovers
Serving in a small group takes some serious effort — and if your plate is simply too full to handle the commitment, consider adding in a co-leader to give you the extra octane you haven’t been able to provide. Maybe ask a parent to join you and take some of the responsibility of the night. Maybe ask a college-age youth leader to jump in with that vigor and passion you’re out of at the end of the day.

+ You Have Trouble Maintaining Order
You might have the right size group, but for some reason things are always out of hand. While there is always a certain amount of chaos that is normal in every group, if there isn’t some sort of step-by-step progression happening with your students, it might be time to ask for help. Now remember that everyone is a rookie before going pro, so don’t be too eager to bail leading the group alone. If you need help and it would serve your group better, then by all means lets do it.

JG

Some suggested youth ministry resources to help small group leaders:
sg_bundle small_groups_leadertreks