For Youth Workers Post

Starting Small Groups in Your Church

Craig Mitchell

Small groups are one of the best ways to foster the spiritual growth of young people. Groups that focus on genuine friendship, honest discussion, scripture study, and prayer can help keep the flame burning in their lives. Perhaps your church has never organized small groups such as this, or maybe your small groups need a boost. Here are some practical tips to get you moving in the right direction.

Share the Vision

Talk with your pastor and other youth leaders about the possibility of starting small groups for the youth in your church. Be enthusiastic! Work through the following steps to draw up a plan and a timetable. Seek approval from your pastor to begin work on the plan right away. Most churches will be happy with this, and you can share your progress at regular intervals.

Recruit Small Group Leaders

Talk with your pastor and other key leaders about who could lead small groups. Also get input from the youth in your church about adults that they would like to see involved. The main qualities needed by small group leaders are a sincere faith, a love for young people, and a willingness to listen to and to encourage youth. These people can be adults of any age.

Recruit leaders by personal invitation, not through the church bulletin or newsletter! Plan a get-together to discuss your plan with them. People will be most likely to say yes if you offer them continuing support, resources, and training.

Offer a Range of Meeting Times and Places

Young people have busy lives, so it’s best to offer some choices about meeting times. If you only offer one meeting time, you will exclude some people. It’s better to have several small groups meeting at different times than to try to keep everyone together in one group and end up excluding persons who can’t fit into your schedule. Don’t forget breakfast and before-school times as possibilities. It is best to meet weekly, if possible, although some small groups meet every two weeks.

Where to Meet

The meeting place may be at the church or in someone’s home, as long as it is a comfortable setting and you can meet without interruption. One advantage of meeting in a home is that the young people get to interact with the adults who live there—perhaps over a meal at times. However, some groups meet in fast-food restaurants before or after school. Establish a regular meeting place so that group members and parents know where you will be.

Group Ages and Sizes

Small groups can have as few as three people and preferably no more than eight. Four to six people is a good size. If your group is larger than eight, you may want to meet together at the beginning and end of your session for prayer and announcements but form smaller groups for your sharing and discussion times. (NOTE: If it takes some time to recruit enough small group leaders to have groups of optimum size, use the option above with larger groups in the meantime.)

Small groups tend to work best if group members are of a similar age. With younger teenagers, girls tend to be more socially mature than boys, so it may be worth considering separate groups for guys and girls.

Start with a Celebration

Plan an event to celebrate the beginning of a small group and the opportunity for youth and adults to grow together in faith in the weeks or months ahead. Schedule a time and place for interested people to meet. At the event, explain the vision for this small group and the ways if will offer ongoing support and foster spiritual growth.

Invite those who attend to join the small group. Be aware that some will say yes immediately, while others will want time to think about it. Come back to them later with another invitation. Once again, a personal visit is the best invitation.

The First Meeting

If you start with a combined gathering, it’s better to make it an actual experience of small group life than a meeting to discuss small groups. Begin with some games and group-building activities; then move on to some personal sharing, Bible discussion, and prayer.

Involve the adult leaders in planning this initial meeting. In the future you may involve the youth in planning as well. And don’t forget to have some food!

Small Group Resources

A wide range of excellent small group resources is available for youth ministry. You may want to put together your own meeting models based on topics with which your youth are dealing. We recommend using devozine, a devotional magazine for teens from The Upper Room, and devozine‘s weekly In the Habit” sessions, a companion resource for leaders.

The magazine will help young people to develop their daily devotional life and can be the springboard for your weekly group sharing. The “In the Habit” sessions offer easy-to-use outlines for your small group meetings, focusing on the devozine theme which the youth have been reflecting on during the week.

Support for Leaders

Leaders say that what they need most is encouragement. Ask your church to designate someone as the small group coordinator. This person can offer encouragement to leaders and help to recruit new members. Your groups will be most effective if leaders are given some clear expectations and guidance regarding preparation, group leadership, and confidentiality. The coordinator can also host a gathering of the small group leaders every 6 to 8 weeks to see how they are doing, to check on their group’s progress, to share ideas and learnings, and to talk about issues of concern.

For additional training, check with the pastor or youth worker in your church and with other local youth leaders about training opportunities for small group leaders that may be offered in your area. Encourage your church to help pay for small group leaders to attend.

Share the Story

Youth ministry is a ministry of the whole church. Invite adults in the church to pray for small groups and their leaders. Find opportunities for young people to tell the story of how the groups are going. Create a photo display of the groups to encourage others to join. Seek the continuing support of your pastor. Try to keep the enthusiasm building so that small groups are seen as a vital dimension of your church’s ministry with young people. Have faith that God will use your commitment and planning to enable young people to grow in their relationship with Christ and with one another. Go for it!

DIG DEEPER: Learn more about Facilitating Small Group Sharing.

Craig Mitchell is the National Director—Formation, Education & Discipleship for the Uniting Church in Australia. In his spare time, he writes devozine articles and “In the Habit” blog sessions.

—from devozine. Copyright © 2011 The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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