For the last couple of years, we’ve been meeting together for the first few weeks of our small groups launch. Here’s a little of the strategy behind it:

We build up our leadership team
Each night starts with food, discussion and training. It is easily one of my favorite parts of the week! Years ago, I used to host “steak-outs” and grill up steak for my team each month, this gives us a chance to meet together and talk, laugh, share and grow together each week. If you try this, just make sure a) the food is good and b) what you’re meeting about is worth it since you’re asking for an extra hour of their week.

The “next step” from the weekend is much easier
I love it that we can say, “just show up on Tuesday or Wednesday here in the same place and we’ll get you in a small group.” Instead of having to get out the GPS, try to find a home and the pain of walking through the door as a stranger for the first time – they can arrive at a place where they are already comfortable, make some friends and take the next step in our discipleship process.

We establish the expectations together
We ask a lot of our volunteers and students in small groups – and by starting the year together we can model and demonstrate higher expectations. For students, being all together means we’re asking them to be quiet because of other groups, and respectful of others. For leaders, we train and expect reporting, promotion of the ‘next step’ and communication.

It gives us a chance to model different types of cirriculum
The first week was “get to know you” type of night – but the next four weeks all model different types of material they can choose to use in the small group year. This week we’re using a NOOMA video and asking them to discuss/teach around video, and we’ve also done topical, expositional and book studies during our time together.

Last year was the first time we even had the space to experiment with something like this (with the opening of the Refinery) and we met together for 10 weeks. This year, we’ve reduced it to 5 and it feels much better, we love homes and you can start to feel the pull a few weeks in. Next year, I’m thinking about somewhere between 3-5 weeks of meeting together before we move into homes, or maybe asking freshman groups to meet a bit longer than the veteran groups.

Either way, we find this time super valuable, and you might, too. Always up for an experiment!

JG

I liked Chuck Bomar’s thoughts on getting the most out of a conference – seemed like most of it was transferrable to what you would experience at a youth ministry event, too. Here’s 2 of his 4 suggestions – we’re excited to have Chuck as our discipleship retreat speaker in January, too.

  • Develop a filter. Every speaker is there for a reason. Most have thought a ton about the subject their teaching on and have experience (hopefully) in that particular area. But, they don’t know your context, the people you work with, or the traditions you live in/with. Therefore, you have to develop a filter that would sift out the things that wouldn’t apply in your context — no matter how epic the thought might be. God’s called you to the context you’re in and you’re at the conference to be more effective in that context. So, the filter is necessary.
  • Purchase carefully. Sometimes we go to a conference because we just need some time away, but usually we attend conferences because we’re hungry for some direction, training, and resources. And, oh man, we go into the resource center and everything looks good. We have the budget, so we just go crazy. Getting resources, by the way, isn’t a bad thing. If there are resources you think will be useful in ministry by all means buy them. But, just be careful to buy those that will actually be used. Far too many budgets are spent on resources still in the wrapper 12 months later.
  • JG



    Here’s The final part of our training on relational youth ministry this week with our small group leaders – the benefits of relational youth ministry. We started with a simple definition and 3 statements that it makes – and many of them shared some simple but amazing ideas to help deepen relationships and experiences to help outsiders become insiders in a small group. Great thoughts, all leading us to the “why” we focus on building relationships as a high school ministry:

    A focus on relational youth ministry gives …

    … students an increased ownership of ministry/faith
    Students who have a significant relationship with a caring adult – stick – simple as that. Students don’t fall through the cracks when they are known and loved. Sure, things still happen and it is possible even extreme effort wouldn’t save a kid, but as a general rule, when they are invested in there will be more ownership.

    … leaders a more holistic picture of student’s life
    If you minister to a student for the 2 hours a week of official small group time, that’s good enough. But what if we could add a “+” to those 2 hours. The “+” could be simple – a text, a call, a Twitter update with their name in it, a message through Facebook. The “+” could be huge, too – a visit to a students’ game, a visit to the home, showing up at a school play. Whatever the effort may be, it will give you as the small group leader a better glimpse into the world of your students. You’ll better understand them and how to minister to their needs.

    … both more openness to share
    When there are relationships in a small group – there is more discussion. And the discussion goes beyond the usual chatter, relationships equal safety, and when students are safe they open up. There are nights when groups clam up – those happen so don’t worry about it. But as a general rule, if you want your group to share, then get invested in their lives.

    What are the other beenfits of a relational youth ministry?

    JG

    make_their_day

    This week in our small group training my goal was to emphasize the culture of relational youth ministry. Ryanne (volunteer coordinator) and I started with agreeing on a definition first:

    Relational Youth Ministry is any step toward building a relationship with a student in your small group. It could be big, it could be small – either way, it is an effort toward truly living in community and sharing life together.

    I want our ministry to be known for this! I want our students known, loved and cared for. It all takes time – but not as much as you might think. You went to a students’ water polo game? Amazing. You couldn’t make it to the game, but sent them a text asking if they won or not? Still incredible. You thought about them, or prayed for them while they played? I’ll take it! Leaders this week talked about simple ways they connected with students – from road trips to camp outs, from birthday parties to a “good luck on the SAT” text. All make a difference and build relationship.

    Too often we default to the big ideas and instead should be happy with any and all steps. Some weeks they’ll be huge steps. Some weeks, small. Some – even backward. As a small group leader, commit to relational youth ministry and build community with the students God has entrusted to you!

    At the end of the training, we gave out Make Their Day, a resource from Simply Youth Ministry/Group that helps give leaders ideas to affirm and connect with the kids in their small groups. Fun night!

    JG



    When a student in your small group opens up and shares a secret or a sin, for many leaders there’s an instant tendancy to freak out or respond negtively. Here’s 4 quick actions to take (adapted from some HSM training stuff) when you first hear the news:

    Calm Down
    Don’t panic – set aside your own feelings and and shock and try to make some clear-headed judgements. Stay calm … you can do this. In a weird way, this is what you

    Be There
    Don’t let a confession spur you to leave this person behind – unintentionally on accident or intentionally because you’re not sure how to handle it. Make sure you follow-up with the student as soon as possible, they will regret sharing their secret with you and second guess opening up to you in the future.

    Go to God
    Pray, pray, pray. Never underestimate the power of God to work in this situation. Ask Him to reveal what to do and say, and that he would heal the people involved.

    Team Up
    You are not alone in this – when a student finally revealed their big secret, they probably felt alone. Now that you are carrying it, look to your coach or fellow youth worker to carry the load together.

    JG

    Most small group leaders won’t have the experience of dealing with a student in imminent danger of abuse or neglect. We do trust you to use discernment and handle most of the typical situations that will arise during the small group year. But there is the chance that a student will reveal something extremely serious, and this is how we’re preparing for that eventuality. Here’s four steps of response to a major crisis taught during small group leader training this week:

    Step 1: Alert the Student
    Let the student know that you have the responsibiltiy to make someone else aware of the situation. While we still very much agree to the covenant that includes confidentiality, a small group leader should never promise to “never tell anyone what I am about to tell you.” In some cases, you simply must. Let them know that you are not prepared to handle these types of situations alone, and that you care for them and want to make sure they are safe. Be ready for the student to object, and do your best to ease their fear. Do not let them talk you out of taking the next step. Just encourage them, and let them know they will not go through this alone.

    Step 2: Partner with the Team
    Call the church office – these situations are never easy to handle, and we want to help you through it. Our team can help you decide if this situation is, indeed, one in which a report to authorities must be made and discuss further action with you. Even if you aren’t sure this is “big enough” to warrant reporting to the authorities, let us know what’s going on so we can pray for you and help you lead your student back toward health.

    Step 3: Report to the Authorities
    After partnering with the team, together fill out the report and beging the process. You’re not expected to be a professional with this, so don’t worry if there are questions that you cannot answer.

    Step 4: Follow Further Instructions
    The church team will instruct you on what steps, if any, need to be taken from here. Most likely, your role in the reporting of the situation will be complete at this point, it woudl be rare for your involvement to be required beyond the initial report. Continue to pray for the situation and that it will be resolved quickly.

    Again, these steps should only be followed in the most extreme cases of abuse or neglect.

    JG



    Spent some time today crafting our small group leader training tonight, thought it might be helpful for you to read and/or use in your ministry as well.

    The main passage was from I Thessalonians 5:12-27. Here’s the whole passage, and some thoughts to follow:

    Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other. Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.

    See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people. Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

    Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil. Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful. Dear brothers and sisters, pray for us. Greet all the brothers and sisters with Christian love. I command you in the name of the Lord to read this letter to all the brothers and sisters. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

    The context of this passage is the 2nd coming of Christ and how someday followers of Jesus – awake or asleep – will be with Him. Then Paul gives some specific actions to those that are alive. In the context of youth ministry, there are some powerful thoughts:

    HELP THE WEAK (v. 14)
    We share in the priviledge of serving students that are hurting and lost. It is our calling to help those that are stumbling to walk again and those that are seeking to find Him. What an honorable calling we share as part of this ministry to high school students.

    BE PATIENT (v. 14)
    How many of you have “that one kid” in your small group? By last count, we had over 25 “that one kids” coming to HSM. You’ve probably got one in your group, and that’s why Paul tells us to be patient with them. Longsuffering, slow to anger, slow to punish, quick to bear the offense of a teenager who speaks quickly and thinks later.

    PRAY CONTINUALLY (v. 17)
    What a powerful tool is at our disposal as small group leaders – we can go directly to God when we minister to students. Share your insecurities and your inadequacies and He will fill you with His spirit to give you the words to say and actions to take.

    BE THANKFUL GOD IS USING YOU (v. 18)
    God has put you in your small group for this moment! He wanted you to be there for this crisis, He picked you for these students. You didn’t pick HSM – we didn’t pick you either – GOD put you here as a minister. As you serve, say a prayer to God and thank Him for giving you this chance to serve His kingdom.

    REMEMBER GOD IS FAITHFUL (v. 24)
    God will use His word and your words to minister to students. It might not always feel like it, in fact – most of the time it won’t. BUT, God is faithful, the pressure is on Him to fulfill His promise that it won’t return void.

    KNOW THE TEAM IS BEHIND YOU (v. 25)
    Don’t serve alone – there is a great team that shares in the calling of serving students and this church and together. As the pastors and ministers we will support each other, keep each other accountable and share life (and many meals) together.

    JG

    I was talking with Katie Edwards the other day around the office (she’s the co-author of the excellent Youth Worker Training on the Go with Doug Fields) and we talked through the needs of small group leaders at varying points in their experience. She probably hates talking to me, since all of our conversations become blog posts, but still – too much good stuff to keep it to myself:

    Rookie Leaders -ATTENTION
    This part of your team needs the most time. Pour into them, offer trainings, round table discussions, mentoring, encouragement and coaching. This should take up the bulk of your leader time, but that should be expected and will make sense because you are preparing them to mature as leaders into the next two categories.

    Experienced Leaders -BELIEF
    This group is trained and prepared, and has already seen their fair share of youth ministry successes and failures. What they need most is belief. Belief from the leadership that they can do this. That they are an integral part of changing lives, that you believe in them and what you are doing.

    Veteran Leaders – CONTACT
    This select group that make it through the attention (newbie) and belief (experienced) levels of experience need occasional contact more than anything else. They have been coached, trained and believed in for years, you just check in every once in a while to lend a hand or offer advice and they’ll be just fine.

    Think about your leaders this week – what care do you need to give them today?

    JG