Small groups and youth ministry are subjects of lively debate these days. Is a youth Sunday school class a real small group experience? Should they meet on the church campus or in homes? Should they be co-ed or same sex? Should they all study the same curriculum or be allowed to pick their own? Should they meet all year round or take the summer off?
While these are all good questions worth thinking about, the truth is that none of these are the factors that most contribute to a successful youth small group ministry.
Here are eight factors every youth ministry and youth leader who leads a small group needs to consider — whether it’s a youth Sunday school class or a group that meets at another time.
- Healthy Leaders. Youth ministry small groups work best when healthy leaders are in place. Over the years, I have learned that small groups rise and fall on their leaders. Spiritually mature, healthy leaders who understand adolescent development and have the patience to be part of the journey are crucial to every youth small group.
- Consistent Leadership. Youth ministry small groups work best when the leaders stick around. Students today are looking for adults who are consistent in their lives. Look for ways to slow down the “revolving door” of adults who are a part of your youth ministry.
- Trained & Encouraged Leaders. Youth ministry small groups work best when the leaders are trained and encouraged. Healthy leaders who stick around usually are made, not born. A 20-year-old college student who seems about twice as cool as you isn’t automatically a confident, competent youth leader. Take the time to meet regularly with your leaders for on-going training and encouragement.
- Two Leaders. Youth ministry small groups work best with more than one leader. Yes, it is tough getting enough leaders, let alone two per Sunday school class or small group. The benefits of two leaders are too important to be ignored, however: accountability, the ability for one to take a week off if needed, partnering a veteran with a rookie, two sets of life experiences and the ability to build deeper relationships with students and, of course, the safety factor of adults with students.
- Freedom. Youth ministry small groups work best when they are given some freedom. There really is no need to try to control things too much. Each small group leader should have an understanding of the tempo, feel, flow and culture of their group. Every youth small group has a pace.
- Quality Control. Youth ministry small groups work best when they aren’t given too much freedom. Of course, if you give some volunteer youth leaders an inch, many of them will take a foot! While freedom is a good thing, too much of it can do more harm than good. The youth minister needs to maintain a certain level of quality control.
- Down Time. Youth ministry small groups work best when there is an “off season.” All adult youth leaders need a break. Some ministries give their leaders the entire summer off, others every fifth Sunday. Just figure out what works for you. Giving adult leaders an opportunity to attend an adult Sunday school class or small group has great benefits. You can keep adult youth volunteers around longer if you give them the opportunity for some down time.
- Something Bigger. Youth Ministry small groups work best when they are partnered with something bigger. Occasional all-youth rallies and gatherings, special events and seasonal/special times of the year are great opportunities to rally the troops and get all small groups together. These special times are a great place for casual attendees and friends of regular attendees to get their feet wet and connect with a small group — whether it is a youth Sunday school class or a small group meeting at another time in the week.
Bruce Edwards is the Youth Ministry Specialist with the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
To connect with Bruce about these and other youth ministry topics, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.