As a new school year begins, many churches launch into a new season of small groups. These small groups could look like anything from a Sunday school class to a weekly Bible study at the local Chick-fil-a. Though these small group environments take on many different names and look very different depending on the ministry context, there are 3 tools that you as a youth worker can employ that will help set up your student small groups for a successful year of discipleship.
1. Cast a Clear Vision
Without a finish line, no one knows what it looks like to win. In the context of your small groups, have you defined a clear vision for what the small group is seeking to accomplish?
Many times when we think of small groups, we think that discipleship and growth in Christ are the goals. These are the ultimate goals of all ministry, but helping to more clearly define your vision will allow more of a possibility for greater impact. Here are some possible goals for a small group:
- Message-Processing Small Group- This is a group that meets after a large group talk time to dive deeper into the message while seeking to process the application of that message together. This is a way that small groups could help you shrink the feeling of your large group gatherings while connecting the application of the truths of the message to life the following day.
- Topic/Need-Based Small Group- This is a group that is designed to cover a specific topic or theme based on the needs of the students. Maybe after some student conversations at camp this summer, you have realized that your guys really need to spend some time discussing what it means to be a man or your girls really need to explore what it looks like for them to find their identity in Christ. These groups will target students that fall under the need and help to disciple them in that specific area.
- Theological/Biblical-Theme-Based Small Group- This is a group that is designed to specifically cover a biblical or theological theme or topic. Maybe your students have been asking a lot of questions about Revelation, are lacking an understanding of the gospel, or want to dive into a seminary class of Systematic Theology 101. These groups help to address these needs for greater information and understanding of God’s word and theology.
- Accountability/Prayer-Based Small Group- This is a group where students come alongside each other to journey with Jesus together through accountability and prayer. Many students struggle with many of the same issues, yet they feel completely and utterly alone in their struggles. Through an accountability and prayer small group, students are challenged to drop the mask and open up their own lives and struggles to others. Even though this may be the hardest group to lead and establish, the fruit of students walking in community and being the church to each other in these group is worth all the struggles involved.
Depending on the season where you find your students and ministry to be will depend on what type of small group is needed. There also may be a need for a hybrid group that could encompass elements of these different types of groups. Also, there may be ways to incorporate different types of small groups throughout different aspects of the student ministry.
2. Recruit Effective Leaders
John Maxwell has famously said that “everything rises and falls on leadership.” The team that you select to lead your small groups will determine in many ways the success or failure of these groups.
Selecting leaders is secondary to casting the vision for your small groups because the type of small group you select will influence your choices in leaders. For instance, a student is not likely to want his or her parent leading the small group if it is focused on accountability and prayer. The student already faces a natural barrier to opening up, which would be greatly enhanced by the presence of the parent.
In thinking through some potential small group leaders, there are several categories from which you could select:
- College Students
- Younger Adults without Students in the Ministry
- Older Church Members whose Kids Have Aged Out of the Ministry
All of these groups have their own positives and negatives, yet the more diverse a picture of the church you can show your students through the dynamics on your team the better.
In our ministry, we have team members from each of the categories that lead our students in small groups. With a diverse mix of people, students are able to see how the Christian faith relates to the different stages of life as well as to see that they are loved and cared for by the larger church community and not merely the youth pastor.
3. Build a Biblical Community
Whatever small group type and leaders you select, one of the most important aspects of a small group is that of biblical community. Community is something that every person longs for. Whether that is “a place where everyone knows your name” from Cheers or “won’t you be my neighbor?” from Mister Rogers Neighborhood, we all long for a place where we are known and loved. That place is meant to be found in a local church.
Though faith is very personal to many people, faith was never meant to be lived as a solo journey. In a small group, we are facing the challenge of encouraging students to talk about one of the most culturally avoided topics (faith) while dropping the mask of their own struggles before their peers. For students who find themselves constantly being rejected and forced into different identities to look for a place to belong, this is an extremely difficult task.
Yet, we as small group leaders challenge students to make this relational leap into the dark. We constantly remind them that their identity is found in Jesus’ performance for them at the cross and not their perfect record. We remind them that God is for them and not against them. We remind them that there are people who love and care for them and want God’s best in their life.
This is the Christian community that we invite students into via small groups. It is a community that very few adults in the church have modeled well. It is a community where they are pointed to the true source of affirmation while being affirmed and encouraged by their peers. This is a community that doesn’t come without a daily battle since the Enemy wants nothing more than to destroy the work of God in the Christian community of a small group.
Therefore as leaders, we will begin small groups again this school year. Let us cast a clear vision, recruit the right leaders, seek to build a biblical community, and seek God through prayer as we realize that it is His work and not our own that brings us across the finish line.