It's November, and the semester only has a few weeks left outside of the holidays. Small groups took an insane amount of work to get going, and they SHOULD be fine to run on their own for a few more weeks. You recruited some phenomenal leaders to help you, and you ask how things could go wrong with great people?
Then you get the phone call. It turns out one of your groups met once all semester, or they’ve been going to Burger King every week without talking about the Bible. How could this happen? To borrow a line from Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, “YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE.” What happens when the veil is lifted off of our Small Group Leaders?
This phrasing, "Honeymoon Phase" is used to describe the eye-opening experience of reality, hitting us square in the face. Often used when discussing relationships, we've all experienced the moment in life where things weren't as happy-go-lucky as we imagined. For some of you, the situation we opened with happened this week; for others, it may have come at another point in your ministry. Either way, we want to help you deal with this reality: the honeymoon phase has worn off of small groups, and ministry must go on.
We want to give you three helpful mindsets to embrace when working with your small group leaders.
Checkups vs. Micro-Managing
Micro-managing is a buzzword of annoyance in work environments. I don't know many people who would opt-into being micro-managed if given a choice. Your volunteers and small group leaders likely land in this camp, as well. The question arises, how do we have great groups without micro-managing?
First reminder, they are volunteers. Volunteers with great intentions still need assistance. Some of you reading this may be volunteers in the lead youth worker position. We hope this article is helpful to you! Remember, you want to empower your leaders. Checking up on leaders gives you confidence to know they are doing the right thing or gain insight into what is going wrong. We should embrace James 1:19 at all points in our ministry, but especially with our small group leaders.
When you checkup on a small group leader, the message you want to send is reminding them of their importance. You are not trying to puff them up into vain individuals. Showing leaders their importance makes them more invested in investing.
Checking up on them lets them know they are not alone in the fight, but it also helps you understand how to help them better. No one wants to be micro-managed, especially not volunteers. We want to equip our leaders for success while assisting them in accomplishing best the vision they signed up to help bring to life. Ask some questions like the ones below if you are looking for a place to start your check-ups:
- How are things going in the group?
- How do you feel the group is communicating? Walk me through what a typical small group time looks like right now.
- How can I be praying for your group, specifically?
- What can I do to help make your job easier?
Not only do you help the leader in checkups, but you gain a defense for your leader against the parent. The worst thing you can do is instantly side with a parent against your leader. Small group leaders are a representation of you and your ministry. You have to own it. It can be effortless when the phone call comes through to throw your leader under the bus. Here are two quick warnings on why that's a bad idea. The first is that your ministry is represented by everyone involved, especially leadership. When you hand a volunteer the title of a small group leader, you also give them your name and reputation. An appropriately trained and equipped leader will help the ministry grow more substantial than you could alone. The hard part is when we lack the training and equipping, we must deal with the consequences. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but a leader’s shortcomings must be owned as your responsibility.
The second warning is that how you treat your leaders spreads. You have to remember your small group leaders for this year will help you recruit new leaders next year. A reputation of not backing your small group leaders invalidates their ministry and yours. When a small group leader knows they have your full support, it invigorates their ministry as well as giving you the power to speak into it.
We’re not saying to ignore major rocks and breaks in values. If something is going horribly wrong, then it’s ok to ask a leader to step down. We need to ensure we’ve equipped the leader though before we remove them.
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ROI (Return on Investment) at its Highest Here
My wife and I bought our first home about a year ago, and one of the first places we looked inside of each house was the kitchen. We wondered what it would take to upgrade the kitchen from where it was currently. Kitchen upgrades are not cheap, but they are worth the investment. Why? Because everyone comes in contact with a kitchen, and the return on investment is highest in the kitchen. Small group leaders are the kitchen of your ministry.
What is a kitchen responsible for? A gathering place for inhabitants of the home and producing the substance meals which come from within the home. (I’m not talking about those of us who like to eat out a little more than we should) Small groups do this exact thing for our ministries. Small groups make a big church feel like a small church, and they make a small church feel like a home church. Your students are seen in small groups, and your small group leaders help make this happen.
Some of you have had some fantastic meals cooked in some seriously outdated kitchens. Is it impossible to cook a great meal in an outdated kitchen? Absolutely not. Is it harder to cook something great in an outdated kitchen? Absolutely. This is not a comment on the age or even relativity of your small group leaders. This is about making sure your leaders feel updated and informed about how they can best do their jobs. I've had small group leaders who have been doing this for twenty plus years who have amazing experiences each year. I've also seen leaders crush it in their first year. How do you replicate that experience for your small group leaders? You invest in them throughout the year, not just in recruitment.
You will not be able to reach every student in your ministry on a personal level. Your small group leaders can. You are allowed to lead a small group of students, but your greatest small group which needs your attention is your small group leaders. I’d suggest using some of the following questions for your small group leaders when investing.
- How are things going in your life personally?
- What can I be praying for you for?
- If I could make one aspect of your life easier as a small group leader, what would you want help with?
- What can the student ministry do better?
Right People Lead to the Right Solutions
The temptation is to fill a spot. When we decide not to fill spots but recruit quality leaders, we will see the efforts to pay dividends for growth. Jim Collins writes, "In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” We can do our best to avoid a dire need by starting the prep earlier.
How early do we start recruiting for next year's small groups? I had a mentor once tell me the best practice is the Monday after small groups began. Think about the difference between these two asks. “I have a group of six middle school boys who need a leader starting in five days, would you consider if God is calling you to this?” That is not only a big ask, but it’s hard to properly equip a leader who is saying yes five days before the job. How about this ask, “I think you would be a phenomenal fit as a small group leader for a middle school guys’ group. We are all good this year, but would you consider joining us next fall?”
You are confirming the giftings of an individual with no pressure. Follow up with them a couple of months after that, ask to see what they are thinking or what questions they have. Then start to work on that list with more people. You might get the ever-popular response, "This year is not a good time, but maybe next year!" At the moment, those are crushing. Write those names down. Those names then become your first task on the next year's recruitment.
Small group leader triage happens in June. Small group leader recruitment happens in October. I know this seems like a tall task to ask, but I can promise you the right people are out there if you are willing to start sooner. When the right people are on the bus, and we spend the time investing and checking up, we will see amazing small groups happen.
Here at YM360, we believe in what you are doing in youth ministry, because what you do matters. Thank you for pouring into students, and thank you for investing in small group leaders. If we can do anything to help, please let us know!
In the comments below, let's talk about honeymoons! Where did you go on your honeymoon, and how long have you been married? For my non-married friends, if you got married tomorrow with all the money you wanted, where are you going on a honeymoon?
Andy and Robbie want to help you get the shine of your small group back. Click below to watch or listen now!
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