I am passionate about small groups. They are the backbone of the youth ministry that I lead. I am not personally leading one of our student small groups at the moment, but I do visit our groups each week and take time to observe and connect with our students and adult leaders. Here’s a principle that I shared with our leaders recently. I call it the “Look Who’s Talking” Principle.
I am a teacher by gifting. I love standing in front of a group of people and communicating. But when I am leading a small group, I have to remind myself that my role is different. The primary role of a small group leader is not talker, but facilitator. The reason I love small groups is that they give us a chance to help students learn in a more effective way than simply sitting in a chair and listening to an adult talk to them. Ouch! As a teacher, that hurts just a little bit. The truth is, students learn best, not by listening to us talk to them, but through experiences, and in the small group setting, through the experience of sharing what they are processing as it pertains to the topic.
A small group leader is not primarily a sage imparting wisdom, but a miner extracting wisdom from students through asking good, open-ended questions, listens carefully, and gets students involved in the conversation. Yes, adult leaders can share insights and experiences occasionally, but that should be an exception, not the rule. When leaders do all of the talking, students are relegated to the role of passive listeners rather than active participants. As leaders we must ensure that students are engaging in the conversation through sharing their thoughts with the group and listening to their peers. If you think in terms of the old Pareto (80/20) principle, as leaders you should be doing 20% of the talking, and students should be doing 80%.
If you are a small group leader, or if you have a few leaders in your group, take some time after small group to reflect and ask if students were engaging, or if you were doing too much talking. As a principle, remember the title of the 1989 movie, “Look Who’s Talking.” If there were a video recording, or even just an audio recording of your small group meeting, whose voices would you hear? Your goal should be to ensure you hear a whole lot of students’ voices (dare I say, all of your students?) and very little of yours. It’s tough, but it’s the best thing you can do for the spiritual growth of your students.
Over the next few weeks my staff and I will be meeting with all of our volunteer adult youth leaders one-on-one. During our conversations, here are the 5 questions we are going to be sure to ask:
- How can I Pray for you? For your family?
- What do you need to Understand about the youth ministry or something coming up?
- Who is another potential Leader that we could invite to consider being on our adult leadership team?
- Tell me Stories of how you see God moving in the lives of students. How do you see God using you? Who are you connecting with?
- What can we do to Equip you to be a better leader for students?
Small groups are the most important thing we do in our ministry to students. Today I put together kits for each of our groups to help them maximize engagement and eqip our leaders to be even more effective. You can put all kinds of things into a box like this. Our leaders already have thri curriculum content, so here’s what we put in ours:
Last night we had our Delta Small Groups Kickoff Party. We all met at the church, had food, played some dodgeball, then I cast vision for small groups and our dream to see every student connected in a group. We introduced all of our incredible small group leaders then showed a preview video for Youth Alpha, the curriculum we are using in our groups this fall. (Yes, I know … there are a lot of Greek letters flying around here. I should tell you that before deciding to do Alpha in Delta, we ran a Beta test.) Finally, the students got into their groups to get to know one another and their leaders. I am very, very excited that we are adding two more groups this year, for a total of 7! I dream of the day we have 50 all over Long Island! Next week the groups begin meeting in homes, and I am praying and believing for an amazing year of connection, decisions for Jesus, and spiritual growth. If you are a student or a parent and you want information about groups, click here for times and locations.
It’s that time of year when everything is ramping back up again in youth ministry. Here are a 5 things that I communicate and resources that I want to get into people’s hands when I meet them on a Sunday morning; and I want all of our adult volunteers, student leaders, other church staff members, and greeters/ushers to do the same.
- Give them our Student Ministry Calendar. The calendars have our regular gatherings listed on them, but are general in nature (Dates and Events intended as “Save The Date”). Tell them to use the e-mail address listed on the bottom to Signup for the Student Ministry Weekly Update E-mail which has the specifics (Times, Locations, Costs, etc.).
- Give them a Delta Small Groups Locations Card. Our goal is to get every student connected in a small group, and this card contains all of the addresses for the homes in which they meet. (Note: Small Groups do not meet during the summer.)
- Give them a Student Ministry Newsletter. We publish a quarterly newsletter that is full of stories and pictures that gives people a sense of who we are and what we’ve been doing.
- Invite them, or even better, Escort them to our Sunday Morning Program. Our Sunday program meets each Sunday throughout the school year except on Family Sundays.
- Introduce them to a Student Ministry Adult Leader and Another Student. This is the most important thing we can do for new people. Connect them with one of our youth leaders who can welcome them and introduce them to other students their age. This is reassuring to both parent and teen that there are other students in our church and that there is a place for them.