Can’t afford to take your volunteers to a conference this year? Looking for some youth worker training during the Christmas slowdown or to kickoff the New Year? Lots of great options on sale this week at Simply Youth Ministry. Check them out now!


A couple years ago, we started to charge students to join a small group in our youth ministry. Why? Good question – honestly, I’ve had to explain this on occasion to parents, so writing it out here will help me articulate the answer. Just for perspective, as a youth group we budget $0 for Life Groups, the money raised by registration fees goes to cover resources, trainings and materials. Here’s the details:

LIVE Bible
The most important item a student will receive is their new Bible. This year we moved away from the Life Application Bible to use the LIVE Bible. Really, really like this Bible, excited to get it in students’ hands. The Bible retails for $22.99 but can be picked up for $15-18 pretty easily.

Alternate Resource
In the case the student already has a LIVE Bible, we offered up some alternate resources for students to use over the course of the year. This year we gave a Bible study book or a pocket Bible commentary.

Student Journal
We gave students a small journal to write down their learnings and record prayer requests from their group. We’ve printed different ones over the years, sometimes they’re simple like a little Mead notebook with a sticker on it, sometimes more complicated. Either way, we want students to have something in their hand to write down what they’re learning.

LIVE curriculum
Students don’t feel the actual return on this one like getting a physical item like a Bible or journal – but they’ll feel it each week during the teaching time. LIVE isn’t cheap – $499 for the first year and $99 every year after, but we love it and it has quickly become part of our 4-year teaching plan.

Once again, something students won’t feel tangibly, but it should be felt intangibly every moment of the school year. We pour into volunteers, giving them training, discussion groups, resources (like 99 Thoughts for Small Group Leaders) and more. Every minute we pour into small group leaders is a chance to pour into 5-10 students.

Not saying that your youth ministry should charge for small groups next year, but it is working for us, and students are getting a TON of bang for their thirty bucks.


Matt McGill over at Love God, Love Students had a great post about the discussion he leads with his small group guys. Thought some of these tips might come in handy for a volunteer training in your future:

  • I don’t ask questions because I know there are “three or four” correct answers…who knows what insights will emerge?
  • we can’t interrupt one another, cause it’s hard to share and harder when we’re interrupted
  • there will be silences…you may feel it’s awkward
  • I’ll be learning along side you, and sometimes I’ll be quiet after a response trying to understand it better, I’d rather understand a new thought than have my next “agenda item” ready to fire off
  • Some thoughts will be half baked, and sometimes we’ll start taking and then not know how to end the thought
  • I don’t answer very many questions…I don’t really need to because usually we come to the right answers together…this is really frustrating for some


Loved this new concept for a book – just a short reference book for your youth ministry volunteers. Excited to see what all they come out with in the series! This first one, The Volunteer’s Back Pocket Guide to Youth Missions Trip looks like a resource to get in your leader’s hands before that Spring Break or summer mission trip. Awesome.

Unlock the secrets to a successful mission experience with The Volunteer’s Back Pocket Guide to Youth Mission Trips. This useful, practical book will guide you through the sometimes rough but always rewarding waters of a short-term mission trip. You’ll discover how to connect with your students, how to prepare for the unexpected, and how to savor those priceless moments you only find on a mission trip.


Taught a small group leader training for our volunteers a couple weeks ago – just ran across it in my Moleskin tonight and realized I haven’t had a free moment to share it with you. Simple stuff, just an encouragement for our Life Group leaders, young and old, to think wisely:

Think wisely about what you post on Facebook
Please realize that what you post is public, permanent and reflects on our ministry as a whole (see more on this subject here). Use common sense when you post pictures or status updates – read everything through a second time before pushing send or submit. And don’t forget – something that is questionable will always be taken out of context. There is a huge difference between a joke between friends at a coffee shop and a joke that will most certainly be misunderstood posted for the world to see.

Think wisely when you drive students
I’ve taken tonss of students home from small groups or to an outing – and done some questionable things while doing it. We used to “hit mailboxes” – we didn’t really, I just had a student leader in the passenger seat whack the side of the church van when I swerved dangerously close to the side of the road. If you’ve ever used the phrase, “shoot that was close” or “I wonder if we can bury the speedometer” you aren’t using common sense.

Think wisely when you consume media
Here’s the key: what you do, say, watch, listen to, eat – whatever – it all becomes a ringing endorsement in the ears of your students. As the leader of your small group, take extra caution to think about what you’re consuming and if that would be good for your student to see as an example or to participate in themselves. Your words, actions and ideas have incredible power. Think before you watch.

Think wisely when you talk to parents
You are the youth pastor of your small group – so remember that when talking to parents. I guess first off – remember to talk to parents. Communication, good or bad, directly effects the reputation or the student ministry. Take a few minutes to share with parents what you’re covering in small groups, and share a personal observation about their child. It is OK to talk differently to parents than you would to their student.


I couldn’t be more excited to launch a new non-program for discipleship in our ministry we’re calling Grow on the Go (actually we’re revising and bringing this back from HSM past). We’re taking some simple small plastic bins from Target and dropping in some great biblical resources to help our small group leaders challenge students to take a spiritual step. To get a fuller understanding of how small groups are connected to spiritual growth and discipleship, maybe check out 5 Parts to a Typical Small Group Night or 6 Ways to Help Small Group Students Take a Spiritual Step.

So when a Life Group leader recognizes an opportunity to challenge a student to grow on their own, they have some tools right there (or in the trunk of their car) at their disposal. So what’s inside the bins? Glad you asked! We put 1 or 2 of the following resources in the mobile version of our Grow Booth:

I’m convinced that including a little bit of training on these tools at the beginning of the year and putting them in leader’s hands will make a big difference!


Congrats to Jeff Stapleton, random winner of the contest this week for 2 tickets to the Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Chicago this March. Get to the Windy City for some youth worker training with 3,000 of your closest friends, too!

Jeff Stapleton at 10:31am September 2
I’m a youth minister just beginning my third year in a small East Texas town. The resources and support from SYM (newsletters/products/podcasts) have been huge in my development as both a teacher and a leader. To learn and worship with other youth ministers is a tremendous encouragement, and something I look forward to. I hope to make it to the SYM conference one way or another…and get the chance to sit in on an epic live podcast. Thanks for all you do Josh!


I’ve seen Hasbro’s Cuponk for a while now – a simple game of bouncing a ping pong ball into a cup, with ever-increasingly difficult challenges. Then it hit me – how fun would this be as a fun little ice breaker with the teenagers in your small group? I love the idea that this could become an insider tradition where the group start out each night playing a little Cuponk then diving into Bible study and sharing life together.

Random idea, I know – I never said every post would be brilliant. Either way, I bought a couple of them at Target today to give away as prizes at our upcoming Life Group Leader Training Night. Thought I would share at least an illustration of small group fun with them.

Just as an aside, if you like the idea, I would spring for the actual official Cuponk game for $15. At first it seemed like a lot to pay for what a ping pong ball and red plastic party cup could do, but I realized there may be comparisons to beer games if you take the cheaper route.