newThis year with my small group I decided to try somethings that I didn’t do with my last group, and boy has it paid off. So I thought I’d share with you five things that I’ve tried this year in my small group that has brought them closer, and has also made them more interested in their life with God. Now, maybe a lot of you are already doing these things, and if that is the case, keep going strong. But if not, I encourage you to try a few:

  1. Remove all social media devices. Make sure you let parents know that this is happening and how important it is that their child cooperates with this rule. Let them know your phone will be on if they need to reach their child.
  2. Don’t just refer to a verse or narrative, read it with your students. I’m using bible narratives to teach the lesson. And we are literally reading through the whole narrative. The first five weeks we read through the life of David. Every week hands would go up with questions and comments because even though they had heard and some had briefly been taught about it, they had never completely read through it. So whatever topic you are talking about find a bible narrative to help you explain God’s truth. Example: Topic: trusting in God – Bibilcal Narrative: Story of Joseph, Moses, Abraham or etc… Read through them it will change your group.
  3. Let them pray for each other. I started this thing where I would pair the guys up with each other at the end of group and have them go off and pray for each other. Sometimes we will pray together and I will have a few guys pray and then I will close the prayer when they are done. The idea is to get them thinking and praying not just about their prayer request but about the lives of their small group brothers.
  4. Eat the dinner or snack of the night together. I want to model that we are more than just a group of guys meeting one night a week. We are family and we grow closer by eating together. This is also an area I want to be even more strategic with. Like being intentional about what we discuss during snack or dinner time. Maybe share stories about our families.
  5. Don’t just lecture but facilitate. Students respond better when it’s a conversation, rather than discovering truth by being force fed truth through a 40min lecture. Think about the fact that they’ve already been in school and have been lectured like crazy by 5 or 6 different teachers. So get some questions together and make it a conversation. Remember students don’t need deep they need principles that apply to the things they are facing in life on a daily basis.

There are a million more that I could add, but I just wanted to share a few with you that I believe are extremely important in developing a small group that is  growing with God and each other. Would love to hear what you are doing.

hope it helps

ac

help+wanted

Recently in a youth ministry seminar the presenter asked the question, “How many of you feel like you have enough volunteers in your ministry?” One guy raised his hand. The rest of the room wanted to punch him in his smug, little, “I’m awesome” nose. Because almost nobody who leads a youth group feels like they have enough volunteers, a popular discussion when we get together is sharing ideas to help persuade/recruit/guilt-trip/trick/entice folks to join our youth ministry team.

I’d like to share with you the world’s easiest way to get new volunteers: JUST ASK.

Ask, ask, ask, ask, ask, ask, ask, ask, ask, ask, ask. And when you get rejected, ask.

* Bulletin announcements are fine, but not as good as an ask.
* The senior Pastor pleading from the pulpit is great, but not as good as an ask.
* A youth ministry booth at the annual ministry fair is fun, but not as good as an ask.

Who should you ask? Everybody. If there is an adult who loves Jesus and likes teenagers, ask.

Who should do the asking? You, your current volunteers, your students. Believe it or not, the most effective asks usually come not from the “paid spokesperson” (you), but from the “satisfied customers” (current volunteers and students). When a teenager approaches an adult and asks if he/she would be willing to help out in their youth group, it’s tough to turn down! when a current volunteer tells a peer that serving in the youth group is rewarding, and worth the time commitment, it makes a powerful statement.

Don’t say somebody else’s “no”. I first heard this from Bill Hybels. Too often we assume somebody is too busy, uninterested etc. so we say “no” on their behalf without ever actually asking them to serve. Don’t assume. Don’t say somebody else’s “no”.

There are probably more people in your church willing to work with students than you think. You just have to ask!

In my next post, we will take a look at some strategies that will help make “making the ask” a little bit easier.



5imagesI had the privilege of hanging out with some our volunteers and doing some training recently. As we were talking and just hanging and swapping stories about students, it really got me thinking about how important our volunteers are to our ministry. We are definitely a million times better with them! Hanging with them got my mind going and I started to think about 5 things I never want to forget concerning them. I want to continue to do these things better and better and better.

Empower - I’ve learned that the more you empower and train your volunteers, the more you can give certain responsibilities of the ministry away. You actually create the capacity to grow healthier when your volunteers are trained and empowered.

Teach to communicate - If your ministry leans heavy on small groups, then your volunteers need to know how to best communicate to students. Your life group leaders will spend way more time with students then you, so equip them to teach well. Now, by no means am I saying that you have to turn them into world renown speakers, but they do need to know what you value when it comes to what’s being taught. Giving them curriculum is not enough. It’s like giving a gun to someone who’s never shot one before, and telling them to shoot a soda can off a roof. They need training and guidance on how to communicate God’s word.

Involve – One of the worst things I believe you can do to a volunteer is under utilize them. I learned that I have to stop thinking of volunteers as hired help and think of them as a part of my team. You will be surprised of the skills your volunteers have and are ready to use, if you acquired about them and used them. I’ve learned that when you are all in with your volunteers in terms of involving them as a team, they will be all in with using their skills, talents and resources to move the ministry forward.

Value – Volunteers stay where they are valued (not just appreciated). The best way to show a volunteer that he/she is valued is not by just simply showering them with gift cards and thank you notes (which by the way are super important and shouldn’t be under valued at all), but you show how much you value them by how much you invest in them. Here are some examples of investing in volunteers:

  • Grabbing coffee
  • Bringing them along to a conference
  • Asking them to share with younger volunteers
  • Training them
  • Letting them run a portion of the meeting
  • Caring about their personal life
  • Caring and knowing their families
  • etc…

The truth is, we invest our time in the things we value. So I’ve learned that if I invest in my volunteers, I’ll see more stick around longer.

Appreciate – While volunteers don’t do what they do to be appreciated, it’s a must that you show your appreciation to them. Your appreciation to your volunteers communicates 3 things:

  • It communicates that they are important to the ministry.
  • It communicates that they are making a difference.
  • It confirms their call to serving where they are.

It’s our job to appreciate our volunteers. Make it a rule of thumb that however you decide to show them appreciation take it up another level.

Now, I know there are definitely more then five so what I’m I missing or what would you add to the list?

hope it helps

ac

237_many_hatsI had the opportunity to give a few thoughts on discipleship to our small group leaders. So I thought I’d share them with you all.

I’m a firm believer that small groups are messy and not as clear cut as some may make them out to be. Therefore, discipleship within small groups is not as clear cut either. I believe the many hats a small group leader has to wear shows the messiness of small groups, and also presents a reason as to why small groups are messy.

Small Group Leader Hats

  1. Counselor
  2. Teacher
  3. Mediator
  4. Friend
  5. Disciplinarian
  6. Role Model
  7. Support System
  8. Advocate
  9. Many More

Wearing this many hats makes a checklist discipleship system impossible. I’ve worn many hat’s being a small group leader and many of them at the same time. What has helped me the most are the principles Jesus used discipling his disciples. When I look at how Jesus discipled, I see a more patterns of principles than methods or structure. Principles deal with the important intangibles that effect areas of our life long term.

We must understand that every time you interact with your students you are discipling them. Whether you know it or not you are discipling with your life and with the choices you make. How you live and the choices you make effect your students for the better or worst. And that’s why I believe Jesus discipled based on principles. Discipling through these principles has been encouraging and literally life changing for me and my small group. So here are the three principles I feel like Jesus used with his disciples:

 

  1. Disciple Through Relationships – Grow and Build Relationships With Your Students – Jesus was always sharing with them who He was and what what He was here to do. He was growing them closer together but also closer to himself. For the sole purpose of building trust. Jesus knew that there would come a day that they would need to trust him and each other. I can tell you from experience that there will come a day that your life group students will need to trust the wisdom you give and know that it’s out of love and not judgement. They will also need the support and confidence of their group.
  2. Disciple IntentionallyBe Intentional With What You Teach and Do – Jesus was intentional about what He taught and also how He challenged the disciples. When Jesus taught the sermon on the mount He intentionally used verbiage that the people already knew so that His words would resonate with them. He intentionally used those words to relate to them so they would hear him and follow. Think about the ways you can be intentional with what you teach. Don’t just teach, speak intentionally to the hearts of your students. How can you challenge them intentionally? You don’t want to just throw ideas at that wall and hope one stick. Have some intentional conversations with God and also with them so you can challenge them in areas that would benefit them for sure.
  3. Disciple the Potential – I feel super strong about seeing the potential in students, I may do a whole post on this topic alone. I see it as a non-negotiable in youth ministry. Jesus chose the disciples based on what he saw in them. He saw three fisherman and a tax collector as world changers preaching the gospel way before the did any of that. He saw a christian killing machine like Paul as someone who would change the world way before he did any planting of churches or writing of the scriptures. Disciple the potential of your students and don’t allow their present circumstance to sway what you see in them.

I got the chance to let our small group leaders know that how you disciple is super important. And again,  I’m not talking about method or structure, I’m talking about in principle. There are a million methods out there and they are all great in their own right, but Jesus gave us some principles that can be used no matter what the method or the structure looks like.

Would love for the youth ministry nation to weigh-in. What  are some other principles Jesus Christ displayed that we can use to disciple our students?

hope it helps

ac



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

 —  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



Screen shot 2013-11-14 at 8.37.04 AM

My 8th grade small group last night, by the numbers:

- Students present: 14
- Leaders absent: 1
- Overwhelmed leaders present: 1 (yours truly)
- Oreo cookies consumed: 71
- Hamster Eulogies performed: 2
- References to cute girls: 9
- Shirtless wrestling matches: 3
- Boys locked into bathroom: 1
- Pairs of dirty socks worn as mittens: 1
- Unsuspecting faces rubbed by “mittens”: 11
- Prayer requests: 9
- Reports of answered prayer: 1
- Rounds of “chat or challenge”: 6
- Minutes of quality Bible discussion: 13
- Minutes of less-than-quality Bible discussion: 21
- Prayers of thankfulness for being allowed to work with JH guys by leaders on way home: 1

Thanks for being there for your students,

Kurt

@kurtjohnston

wipelefty
The above picture and hash tag may be the perfect summary of why I love junior high ministry SO much.

I employ an interesting small group strategy: I only lead 8th grade groups. Each year, I join a pre-existing 8th grade group, or start one with guys who weren’t in a group the previous year. Why? It’s selfish, really…it allows me to take a break from leading a group the following year without leaving students hanging without a leader after 7th grade.

Above is the picture of my new small group, which I co-lead with an AWESOME college student, Blake, who is studying youth ministry at a local Christian college. The picture complete with dog pile, goofy faces and fighting for attention is exhibit A for why junior high ministry is so fun. Exhibit B, of course, is the Hash Tag. We thought it would be cool to give our Life Group an official Hash Tag to use when posting various pictures we want to share with each other. #Wipelefty was picked as the result of a brief conversation we had earlier in the evening that went something like this:

JH guy #1: “Kurt, you’re a lefty?”
JH guy #2: “Do you wipe lefty, too?”
Me: “Yes, I do.”
JH guys #3,4,5,6,7: “We wipe lefty, too!”
JH guy #2: “So you wipe lefty…and you are eating pizza lefty!”
JH guy #1: “Hey, I figure it goes like this: You can wipe lefty, and you can eat pizza lefty…just DON’T wipe, with pizza, Lefty!”

Laughs all around. And the birth of #wipelefty

Why would you work with any other age group?