Tag Archives | life groups

Transitioning Seniors

We run our life groups from October to June and take a break during the summer time. For our seniors, life groups are the hardest things to leave because for most, their groups have been together for years and most of them have had the same leader the entire time. No one likes to say goodbye, but graduating from the ministry is something that every church has to deal with.

This year we are trying to be more intentional with our senior life groups and getting them connected with our college ministry here at the church. I have been working with our college pastor and his team to scheduling time with our senior life groups for them to stop by their place of meeting and drop off some gifts and prizes and begin the connection between our ministry and theirs. I feel like transitions either go really well or really bad, and there is no in between. Having a place where students can go and be connected after high school is huge if we want to keep them involved in the church.

Our college ministry meets Thursday nights for a service with small groups attached to the end. College ministry takes over and help run our Sunday night services for the church as a whole (Service geared for 35 and under. This service is louder, different music, after service parties, but same message as the other services with Rick) and we push our students to those services after high school. Which is great because they are then connected to the church as a whole as well as with others their own age on Thursdays. With our college team meeting with and getting time with our seniors months before they graduate, they begin relationships and connections for when time comes where they are now in their ministry. Can’t start early enough to get them connected with the next stage of life and ministry in the church.

I think this will be a great win for our ministry and their ministry as we say good bye to our seniors and they say hello to their new freshman class.

What are some things you do to say good bye to your seniors? Do you get them connected to the church as a whole? What ministry? What does this look like for you?

(Here is a great 1-off message to send off seniors in the best way in the DYM store!)

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Student-Led Small Group Bible Study

One of my favorite things I do with my small group at the end of every year is allowing them to take us through a study. I allow them to take the lead and come up with and lead a discussion based on whatever topic they feel the Lord is pressing on their hearts. They are not always the smoothest, they are not always the “greatest”, but they are a huge part of learning and leading.

I know there can be some things that happen when a student runs things, but I believe those are risks worth taking because of the following reasons:

They read the Bible- You don’t need to be in youth ministry long to know most teenagers struggle reading consistently. But some some reason when they are given a chance to lead a study, they dive deeper into the text than I ever did leading them. They know more about the passage than I do, and it sticks for them.

They wrestle with it- I know when they are asking questions, it is questions they are wrestling with themselves. This shows me what they are thinking while they were reading through it and they want their peers to wrestle with the same.

They are working out their theology- Is everything they say theologically sound? Not always. But that’s why you are there. To help guide the discussions. How are students supposed to work out their theology if we are the ones who are telling them what they should be thinking. Small groups are the place for these things to be worked out and discussed.

I get to meet with them- For every study, I get to meet with the student leading that week for a one-on-one session to go over what they have planned to share. This is where I can help them and speak into the lesson a little bit to help them develop where they want the group to go.

Students need to hear other voices - Again, we know when students hear from people other than you, they will remember it more. I don’t know how it works but it does. Especially when it’s from a peer.

Like I said, it’s one of my favorite things I get to do with my students. I get to see them grow in leadership and faith. It is pretty great. I am always surprised by how great they all turn out. Do you do anything similar with your small groups? Do you allow students to try and lead?

Take a look at some small group teaching outlines students/small group leaders can walk through different books of the Bible with.

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Why Spiritual Growth Happens In Small Groups

I love our weekend services. I really do. I think they are so fun and I love the high energy that comes along with it. I love that students are high energy and they are being exposed to who Jesus is when they come on the weekend. But even on the weekends, we want to push students into small groups for spiritual growth because of these reasons:
  • In a  large group a student can feel like they don’t matter because they don’t know anyone. While in a small group they are reminded that they are loved greatly.
  • In a large group you can come in and go out without anybody really noticing. While in a small group it is impossible to hide. You will be seen and heard.
  • In a large group there is usually no food. This is tragic. In a small group (at least mine) we feast over amazing food and have great conversations while doing so.
  • In a large group they are listening to the teaching, which is great. While in a small group they can discuss and ask questions about the topic.
  • In a large group there is almost no accountability. While in a small group it is way easier to follow up with students.
  • In a large group we tend to think about our stuff going on in our lives. While in a small group we are reminded that others have problems just like us.
  • In a large group when a student is convicted, unless they come to us, we won’t know. While in a small group we have the time and ability to talk about those convictions.
  • In a large group any specific prayer requests can go unnoticed. While in a small group there is an opportunity to share what is going in student’s lives and be able to pray for them specifically.
  • In a large group after the teaching, students usually will just go home. While in a small group, hard questions can be asked and there will be time allowed for discussion and discovery.

Weekends are a great conversation starter for students. But small groups are where the conversations can continue and where spiritual growth can happen. They are where transformation happens. They are where leaders can push, encourage and challenge students in their faith and really open them up to what God has planned for them.

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We Can’t Change Students

I think one of the hardest things about a job as a youth worker/pastor is watching a student who used to be so involved not be anymore. A student who you have seen God made a complete 180 degree turn in go back to the ways they struggled with before and become more and more distant. It is heart breaking. It is even more heart-breaking when you need to console the mother of that student because she doesn’t know what to do anymore. What does one do with this? What can we possibly say in times like this? What can we actively do with this to move forward?

I’m going to be honest, I don’t know. It’s hard.

I have been working through this myself lately with some students and what I keep coming back to is this verse:

“How tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God. That power is the same divine power which was demonstrated in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” (Ephesians 1:19b-20)

Something I have learned more this year than in my previous years in youth ministry is that we have the power to change no one. As much as we want to, we don’t have the power to do this. But we serve a God who can change the hearts and minds of those He created and loves. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power in which can cause someone to be open to listen to God, to others and take advice to turn their hearts around.

I don’t know if there are more steps to this, but this is what I have been doing this past year and I have seen God move in students who used to be far from Him to call them back and I am confident in prayer that He will do the same with those students right now that are far from Him as well.

Pray- Prayer is simple but it is not always easy. Patience is key to prayer. Pray God begins to soften their heart to be open to talking about what is happening.

Pursue- For students who are not coming like they used to because they know they are doing things that are not right, constantly pursue them. Let them know that you are thinking of them and praying for them and are there for them. Whether if they text back or not, they will know that you are still thinking about them.

Persist- We don’t know how long it will take, but we need to persist. I have seen in my own ministry, I have gotten a random text from a student months after them not being around but because they knew I was thinking about them weekly, when things got hard I would get a text to meet up with them because they knew I was wanting to meet with them for months.

Prepare - If they do reach out to you, be prepared for what is coming. Be prepared to listen. Listen well. Most of the time when I have these meetings I don’t say anything because I just want to hear what’s going on. I’m not quick to give advice unless asked. Usually this is the first of many meetings to follow.

God has the power to bring people back to Him. We do not. So pray, pursue, persist and prepare for those students who walk away. God can still move in huge ways and we get to be a vessel in bringing students back to Jesus. What an awesome job we have.

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Discipleship = Time + Relationships

Matthew 28:18-20 – “Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’”.

I have been thinking a lot about discipleship lately. It’s hard. It’s so worth it. I have been thinking about how I myself have become a disciple of Jesus. I have been thinking about how we as a ministry are making sure we discipling students in a way that they would be making other disciples. My office mate and I were talking and he said something pretty great which got me thinking. He said, “I’m not concerned with how many students we baptize, I’m concerned with how many of those we baptize end up baptizing others. How do we get better in this?” Such a great question isn’t it? It’s a challenge we all need to take seriously and step back and look at how we are doing this.

Looking at what a disciple is: 1) someone who is willing to “go”. They knew what they saw about Jesus and had to go out and tell others about Him. We need to make sure our students KNOW what they believe to go out and tell others. 2) Disciples challenge others who believe to be baptized. While baptism is not what saves a person, it is the public confession of allegiance to Christ and willingness to enter into Christian discipleship. 3) a disciple reproduces themselves. While only some believers are gifted in teaching, all believers are called to share what they know about Jesus with others growing in their knowledge of Christ.

So what does this look like for you? How can you measure this in your ministry? I don’t know. I do believe that our small groups are the beginning of where many disciples are started but we always need to be striving to be better. I just know it takes a lot of time and it mostly stems out of a lot of relationships. As I look back on my own journey of discipleship, I can pin point certain people who were instrumental in my faith. They time they spent with me and the things they talked to me about regarding my faith made me who I am today and I’m grateful. Those people were Greg Tisor, who I used to volunteer for and now is a senior pastor and Mike Brook, who is now the college pastor here at Saddleback. They spent so much time and intentional in their relationship with me pointing me to Jesus.

I’m sure many of us can look at our stories and realize the same thing. There was a lot of time and a relationship in which helped us turn towards Jesus even more and I would love to hear your stories! DYM is a family and how do you get to know your family better? You share stories, so share in the comments below:

 How did you become a disciple?

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How To Disciple Like Jesus

When we look at the Gospels we can see clearly Jesus had a small group. He had 12 disciples. Out of this group there was life change, but not only life change but world change. I am currently reading through the Gospels right now and one of the things that stands out to me about how Jesus disciples his group and others around Him was how many questions he asked. His disciples would ask Him a question and He would answer with a question. At first I thought, “How annoying?” But as I began to think about it, it is genius. Getting people to even think about the questions they ask helps to get them to the answer that they are looking for.

We disciple most like Jesus when we learn how to ask our students great questions.

I have tried this the past few weeks with my own small group. They would ask a question and then I would answer with a question back. They would get frustrated because they want the easy answer but what I found is that they would begin to verbally process through the question and they would land on the answer they were looking for. We can readily give them the quick and easy answer but they won’t truly learn. I think if we as a leaders want to try to model after Jesus and how he discipled His group, we need to make our students work towards the answers they are seeking after by asking them better questions to get them thinking about their faith in Jesus.

Learn how to ask great questions and I think we will begin to see how students learn how to follow Jesus better.

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3 Wins of a Youth Ministry Built on Relationships

Relational youth ministry is the foundation for our ministry to students. We want to care for them, share life together and journey through the highs and lows of life. So what are the benefits of relational youth ministry? Here’s the “why” we make it a top priority to build relationships:

A focus on relational youth ministry gives …

students an increased ownership of ministry/faith.
Students who have a significant relationship with a caring adult stick. Students don’t fall through the cracks when they are known, loved and cared for. Connected students still fall away, but we’ve done everything in our power to pour into them to keep the faith. As a general rule, the students with the most relational investment have the highest percentage chance of owning their faith and ministry for a lifetime.

leaders a more holistic picture of student’s life.
Ministering to your student for the 2 hours a week of “official” small group time is the absolute minimum. What would it look like if we just added a wide open “+” to that time. The “+” could be simple – a text, a phone call, a Tweet, a Facebook message. The “+” could be huge, too – a visit to a students’ game, a visit to the home, showing up at a school play. Whatever the effort may be, it will give you as the small group leader a better glimpse into the world of your students. You’ll better understand them and how to minister to their needs.

both students and leaders increased openness.
When there is relational equity stored up in a small group there is more discussion. There is more trust. There is more authenticity. Discussions go beyond shallow chatter. There will always be nights when groups clam up, but as a general rule, if you want your group to share, get invested in their lives.

What are the other benefits of a relational youth ministry?


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5 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Is Doing Things Right

As the school year is well half-way over and we are turning the corner on winter into spring I always want to see how things are going with our small groups. I started to think about what are some signs in which we can see that small groups are still gaining momentum in our ministry. If you have these things it is most likely your small group ministry is gaining traction too.

Your small group attendance is catching up to your programmed service. I think one of the great signs small groups are sticking and making a rise in your ministry is when your percentage of students in services is being gained on by the percentage of students in small groups every week. The closer those numbers get to each other, you know your small groups ministry is working hard.

You are adding small groups in the middle of the school year. It’s one thing to launch with a certain amount of small groups in the first of the year, but if you are adding small groups still it means your small groups ministry is doing something right. You are gaining more leaders and you are pushing students into small groups all year-long causing new ones to start. Super strong.

More and more people in your midweek/weekend services are “known”. Small groups are where students can be known. On a midweek or weekend service, their face might be known but because of the craziness of services it’s mostly surface stuff. In small groups we know those students are really “known” by their leader and the relationships carried over from small groups will show up in the midweek/weekend services. Trust me, you will see a difference in culture.

More students are serving in areas of the church. For HSM, our weekend services and events are our open front door where we expose students to the Gospel. Everything we do is to push students into small groups because I believe that is where true life change happens with peers and a caring leader and experience Jesus. When your small groups are in their groove we want to see student then be able to express Jesus in this world through service. When you have more students serving, chances are your small groups are producing that.

More and more stories of life change are popping up. Stories of life change are powerful. They are one of my favorite things. We do student testimonies in services from time to time and you know when your small groups are in full swing is when every single story of life change has to do with the students meeting Jesus and their small groups have a part in being a part of their story. When more and more stories of life change happens you know your small group ministry is working.

If you are having any of these happening in your ministry right now, chances are your small groups ministry is absolutely killing it and god is moving. Keep it up!

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6 Ways to Encourage Small Group Students to Take a Next Step

Here are a few simple ways to help students take a next step in their spiritual growth. We want our small group leaders to help students grow on their own:

Think About the Individual
The large group setting is a more objective, big picture look at Scripture that challenges crowd students. A small group setting is totally subjective, allowing students to be challenged individually because they are known, loved and cared for. A small group leader can think about the individual by reflecting how God has been moving in their hearts. Maybe even replay discussions you’ve had with your students over the past month. Then suggest a resource that fits where God is already moving their heart.

Personalize a Resource
When you find the right resource, take time to write a note in the front of it. Make it personal to them, share you heart why you wanted them to have it and speak into the future you see for them. When you hand a resource to someone, it says a lot – but why not say even a little more and jot a few thoughts inside the cover.

Encourage a Small Step
Last week, we learned to celebrate any step forward in building a relational ministry. A baby step is still a step forward, and sometimes we have to remember that spiritual growth doesn’t come in leaps and bounds. Sometimes, the small steps are huge to a student, encourage a step, no matter the size.

Encourage a Big Step
Blow their mind with something out of their league. Think bigger than they think of themselves. Believe in them enough to challenge them to bite off something huge. Tell them they are up for the challenge and think they can do it. Who knows, it might be just what they need for a burst of spiritual formation.

Offer to go through the study/book/resource with them
What if you did it alongside them, too? Help them know you are serious by offering to walk down the path a little ways with them. Maybe it is reading a few chapters with them, maybe serving together for a few weeks, or texting back and forth with questions and thoughts about what they are reading. “Grow on your own” doesn’t release us from helping students journey some of it together.

Check in after a few weeks
Giving resources away to students and encouraging them to grow is what we’re all about. But better leadership is to offer some accountability and checking in on their progress. The accountability encourages an expectation that they can and will get through this, and you are partnering with them in these steps of the spiritual journey.

Next steps in spiritual growth aren’t easy, but they can be life-changing. What other ways can small group leaders encourage students to take a “next step” in their spiritual growth?


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5-Minute Youth Ministry: Small Groups with Jessica Torres

Here’s another episode of DYM’s 5-Minute Youth Ministry! A quick 5-minute interview on one subject with a special guest. Just a quick burst of training and insight for you. In this episode, Doug Fields talks with Jessica Torres about why she loves small groups. Good stuff here to consider!


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Are You A “See-Through” Leader?

The other day I was feeling pretty down about me being a leader. Does that ever happen to you at all? There are just days in which you sort of question how you do ministry at all? Just me? Sweet. Well it was one of those days where I was in that mood. I was sitting at Starbucks doing whatever I was doing and some of our students walked in. We got to talking and I was asking them about our Winter Retreat we just had last weekend and they just would not stop going on about their leader. They were actually coming to meet up with their leader that day. Their leader is a 45-year-old man with glasses and a beard, but they wouldn’t shut up about how awesome their group time has been and how great their leader is.

So I just asked them because I was feeling down with myself and I wanted to know why this leader was so “awesome” and I wanted to hear it from their mouths. What they said snapped me out of my little pitty party and I got to thinking about how we all need to be reminded of this sometimes. They simply said:

“He is just real with us.”

What a simple but powerful statement. These students were drawn to this leader simply because he was real. He was transparent with them. He opened up to them about what he has gone through, what he is going through presently and that has set the tone for the rest of the group to open up and talk about the things they themselves are going through. Because this leader was “see-through” transparent with his life, his students took his example and followed.

Groups are only as transparent as their leaders. Groups are only as deep as their leaders. Groups only listen to each other as much as the leader allows people to tell their stories and struggles. It got me thinking about me as leader. Was I really being transparent? Was I really bringing the group where I was willing to go? The next group time, I was intentional with being transparent on our topic and the flood gates opened with the students. They were transparent. They went as deep as I went. I was “see-through” so they can be also. What a great reminder that is. Do you have a “see-through” group? How “see-through” are you being?

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4 Reasons Why We Have Small Groups

Last week I posted about the purpose of our youth group services, thought it might be good to followup with a post about they “why” of small groups as well. Our overarching philosophy is that we want students not to just be exposed to the purposes of the church (that’s the large group) but also have them experience them first-hand. This makes our Life Groups so critical to the discipleship process. Here’s a breakdown of why we do small groups:

A couple of weeks out of the month, the small group does significant and intentional Bible study. The leaders prepares a lesson selected from the materials provided/approved by the ministry, and concentrate on helping their students grow in Christian education and faith.

Throughout the month, the small group leader checks in on their students’ spiritual disciplines and holds them accountable to growing on their own. The idea here is to gently disciple students to a faith that they can take with them beyond high school. The leader looks for spiritual conversations and opportunities to challenge a student personally. Tons of resources are close at hand to help a student take a spiritual step forward.

At least once a quarter, maybe as often as once a month, the entire group spends time serving together. Care for one of the student’s teachers that lost a spouse recently, serve at a local shelter, help someone with yard work, adopt a city block, visit a home for the elderly. The ministry provide tons of options and ideas, but each group has the flexibility and freedom to create their own monthly service project.

Take the night off! Pool party, lazer tag, pizza buffet, world series of poker marathon, sledding – whatever, it doesn’t really matter. Just something super fun and community – no agenda, just life on life happening.


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Small Groups Are Broken

It’s true.

Small groups are broken. They do not work like they should because they are lead by broken people and are occupied by broken people. It’s messy. One of the biggest traps I see leaders make is what I like to call the “White Knight Syndrome.” The White Knight Syndrome is where we think our student’s spiritual health is completely up to me as the leader and it’s my job to save them.

The fact: When students come into small groups, they are broken. When we lead them in small groups, we are broken.

The realization: As leaders, since we are the broken leading the broken, there is nothing we can do to change our students. This might be hard to grasp or maybe you don’t want to grasp it but it’s true. We can do nothing to change them.

The great part: Even though we can’t change them, we know we worship a God who has the power to change our students as we lead. We know we have a God who has the power to change our hearts as we lead and we has the power to begin to put all the pieces together through Jesus. You may not be able to change them and heal them, but Jesus can.

What we as leaders can do: Even though we can’t do anything to change them, we can still be there for them in their brokenness. Because we are broken, and we know what they feel like, we can walk them through it and point them to Jesus who has the power to mend the broken.

Small groups are broken because they are supposed to be designed for where broken people can go and be real with their brokenness and talk, learn, pray, worship a God who has the power to change them.

Ephesians 2:8-9 - For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

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What is Relational Youth Ministry?


Recently in our small group training my goal was to emphasize the culture of relational youth ministry we are trying to create in our church. I want to talk more about it this week here on the blog, but know it would be best if we agree on a definition first. Here’s my take:

Relational Youth Ministry is any step toward building a relationship with a student in your small group. It could be big, it could be small – either way, it is an effort toward truly living in community and sharing life together.

I want our ministry to be known for this! I want our students known, loved and cared for. It all takes time – but not as much as you might think. You went to a students’ water polo game? Amazing. You couldn’t make it to the game, but sent them a text asking if they won or not? Still incredible. You thought about them, or prayed for them while they played? I’ll take it! Leaders this week talked about simple ways they connected with students – from road trips to camp outs, from birthday parties to a “good luck on the SAT” text. All make a difference and build relationship.

Too often we default to the big ideas and instead should be happy with any and all steps. Some weeks they’ll be huge steps. Some weeks, small ones. Some weeks your students will go backwards. But as a small group leader, commit to relational youth ministry and build community with the students God has entrusted to you!

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“Friend Tryouts” Small Group Promo Video

Really liked this promo video for small groups that NewSpring Church just put up on YouTube this week – looks like it would be a simple edit to change the info on the title card on the backend and make it your own! Love stuff like that.


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