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Tag Archives | life groups

5 Ways to Get More Students in Life Groups

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We’re in the thick of Life Groups kickoff season – we’re getting the word out to students continually and recruiting leaders nonstop. Training is just around the corner and we’re praying for this year to be another life-changing year of small groups in our youth ministry. I was reflecting on some of the growth and positive things I’ve seen the last few years in our ministry, and wanted to share a couple observations on getting more students into groups:

Make them cheap
Life Groups don’t have to be free – but make sure the price isn’t an entry barrier. I think some cost is actually a good thing: 1) it allows you to offer some extra things, and 2) gives them some “skin in the game” to help take responsibility of the group. As a family we pay a small fortune for small groups for all 4 of our kids, so again you have to be careful that the price doesn’t become a barrier.

Make them consistent and fun
Groups that meet regularly have a better chance of sticking and a better chance of growing. Make sure you meet weekly in groups and only take off for major holidays and important breaks like finals week. And groups that are fun are attractive to new students, too. Groups that laugh and learn together are magnetic to outsiders.

Take the summer off
I think having school year small groups is crucial for both leaders and students. When you have “evergreen” or always-running groups, you burn out leaders and students. Switch things up in the summer and give everyone a break.

Allow them to join with a friend
I see the pros and cons of splitting students up into different groups, but when friends can be together they bring other friends. Groups grow. Let students make requests and put friends together for the win.

Keep leaders who get it
Work hard to retain leaders. When leaders “get it” they’ll help more students stick. Parents will trust them. Friends will come. Everyone wins. Want to group Life Groups? Keep your top tier leaders and they’ll bring them in.

Share another idea to get more students into groups!

JG

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Typical Girls Life Group Night

A classic video we’ve played during youth group, Life Group kickoff and leader training. So fun!

JG

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7 Requirements Of A Small Group Leader

We are gearing up for another round of life groups. As we speak, students are signing up for life groups and leaders are letting us know if they are returning with us for another year. New leaders are joining the team and things will be rolling really soon. As we begin recruiting new leaders for this year, here are a few things we look for in a small group leader:

Committed follower of Jesus - They need to know Jesus in order to lead students to Jesus. If they are actively seeking Him then we know they can help students do the same. We find out how they do this through our interview with every volunteer before they officially jump on with us.

Attends our church - They need to attend and call our church their home church. It does not make sense to attend one church and serve in another. You are splitting devotion. We want our leaders to bleed not only our ministry, but our church.

Has time - Leading a small group takes time commitment. It really is more than 2 hours during the midweek. Leading a small group is leading group during designated hours, plus the conversations, hang outs, games, Starbuck’s runs outside of group time.

Decision making - Leaders need to know how to make many decisions. What to do in a group setting when things get awkward, heated, silent and decide on what is the best thing to do to help push the group closer to who Jesus is.

21 or over - Our ideal leader is over the age of 21. This provides enough distance between seniors and the leader if they were to lead a senior group. Sometimes we have seniors who are leading a jr. high group and when they become freshmen, we will evaluate the leader and usually place them with a co-leader who is over 21.

Knows how to be real - One of the most important things about a small group leader is the capability to lead in discussion (not preach) and lead in being real and authentic with students. When leaders do this, students will do the same and allow Jesus to change their lives.

Knows how to have fun - Small groups with students need to be fun. There needs to be teaching, Bible, discussion and all that, but fun is a must. We want students to want to come and enjoy being there and a leader must know how to add fun in the mix. Fun breaks down walls and allows for students to be real.

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3 Mistakes We Can’t Fall Into With Small Groups

As we just opened up Life Group registration after summer camp, I’m thinking about the mistakes I made last year with small groups. These are 3 things to be aware of when small groups are in season and I hope you can learn from them like I have:

Not saying “no” to leaders who are not ready to lead students. This is not easy. I know the need for volunteers is always a thing. This doesn’t mean we can just take anyone in who wants to lead. We need to make sure the leader we do get are capable to lead a small group well and for some reason we don’t think they are ready, we say no. We let them know why and that in a year we can come back to this point and re-apply and re-evaluate.

Overseeing too many groups, alone. Leading leaders can be a great thing. But it’s much like a small group. You have too many to keep in contact with it can get harder to make time for all of them and make sure they are good. When we take on too many leaders to take care of, they can slack because they require equal care. When it gets too much, find another staff or volunteer to help take on the load and make sure everyone is cared for effectively.

Not making a marketing/promo plan. This one is overlooked the most. Many think small groups and the excitement for them just happens. Making a plan to get students in the small groups is huge, or if anything, makes you think ahead. I just submitted a marketing/promo plan for our team as we are rolling towards launching groups for the year. We know what videos, what testimonies of students, what social media details we will be putting out and when to make sure we are hitting key areas and key times to get students in groups. Momentum takes planning and being aware of what is going out.

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Our End Goal In Youth Ministry

I don’t think it comes as a surprise, but I think small groups are great. There are a ton of reasons why students join a small group. It could be just the thing to do at your church. It could be because their parents are making them. It could be because a leader a student has a relationship with invited them into the group. It could be because a student has seen the life change it causes and invited a friend to it. It could be because a student wanted a community around them so they just joined one.

Either one of these reasons are great. I approve. I want all students in a group. But I think there is one reason we as leaders should have a purpose for small group ministry.

Last weekend I was talking to a student about her small group and she hit the main reason right on the head. She said, “I joined the group at first to have community, but as I kept going I realized I really joined because of my need to repent of my sins and learn how to follow Jesus fully.”

BOOM! I was so proud in the moment that this student realized this on her own. She decided to let God control her life and she should stop running it. Her joining the group was the first step to letting that happen. She knew that the community around her would help her understand the studies, she knew the group would pray for her, encourage her, help keep her accountable.

But the main thing was to repent. And this will be an ongoing process.

This is the end goal of youth ministry and healthy small groups of God’s people are instrumental in bringing life change . . . repentance . . . transformation.

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POLL: Youth Workers Getting TP’d

For some reason – we’ve been getting TP’d a bunch lately! Not sure why the increase, maybe the excitement over the end of the school year or lots of free time now at the start of summer – but let’s just say our neighbors don’t quite understand youth ministry at the moment. Their reaction to some Life Group girls covering the whole outside of the place with toilet paper has inspired this week’s poll question: when was the last time you were TP’d?

JG

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How Not to Lead a Small Group

Small groups are an integral part of many youth ministries. Good small group communities foster deep relationships between students and adult leaders. In the process, they push students toward God in very real ways. Unfortunately, small groups aren’t always good. Sometimes, they can be lackluster, the kind people attend only because they feel obligated to do so. The question is, what characteristics distinguish a good small group from a lackluster one?

Over the last year, I’ve gained some insight into the answer to this question as I’ve worked with professor, author, and researcher, Terry Linhart, on a study for InterVarsity, who’s graciously given us permission to blog about some of our findings. During this study, we asked students to describe their worst experience in a small group Bible study. More often than not, the examples students gave came from small group Bible studies they participated in with their youth group. Based on their anecdotes, to facilitate a good Bible study, here are seven things you shouldn’t do.

1. Don’t praise inconsistent attendance. Offer grace to people who miss but also let them know that they were missed because of the value they bring to the group. True community happens when we notice when people are absent and dare to find out why.

2. Don’t ask poorly phrased questions or questions with obvious answers. Instead, put time and thought into the questions you ask. Your discussion will only be as good as your questions.

3. Don’t talk constantly, without ever allowing participants to share. As the leader, your opinion matters, but so do the opinions of everyone else in your community. Authentic community forms when people are given the opportunity to learn from their peers and see God at work in their lives.

4. Don’t allow one person in the group to dominate the conversation. Value and make your space safe for everyone to contribute to it.

5. Don’t discourage emotions. Instead, allow people to share from both their heads and their hearts. Give them permission to feel whatever they’re feeling. As one student we interviewed said, small groups should be a “space to cry together & pray together.”

6. Don’t ignore Scripture. Remember, students’ views of scripture changed from restrictive to life-giving when they actually began reading it for themselves and applying it to their lives.

7. Don’t ignore applications. Challenge students to discern together what Scripture means for their lives.

Based on your experience, what are some other key things you shouldn’t do when leading small groups?

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First 2 Years: 4 Things My Small Group Students Taught Me

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This week, I had my last meeting with the small group I have lead for 4 years. These 11 guys were my very first small group and have become some of my favorite people in the world! God really blessed me with such a great group of guys, so obviously it has been a roller coaster of a week, being so a happy for them and excited to see where they go, while also being so sad to see them leave! They have grown and learned so much, and so have I.

This has been a week of reflecting and processing where I started and where I am now. When I started with them, I had just turned 20 and was still struggling to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Now, I’m 24 and working for a church that I love so much. It has been a crazy journey that all started that first night when I thought I had it all figured out… I quickly learned I had NO idea what I was doing.

Over the years, I’ve made some not-so-shiny mistakes and have had some incredible victories. I have learned so much and still have no idea what I’m doing… but I’m getting there. As I continue to process my four years with them, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned along the way.

Throughout the week, I’ll be posting several of the things God taught me about small group ministry and I’d love for you to join me. Comment on these posts with some of your favorite small group stories or share a lesson that you have learned about small groups.

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GUEST POST: He Said What??

If you’re like me, when you prepare a lesson for youth group, Sunday School, small group, or any other of your youth meetings, you like to have it be as clear and understandable as possible. We never want our students to go home more confused than when they arrived – that would just make us look bad! After all, we’re the person (paid or unpaid) the church is relying on to help students answer their questions about Jesus and about life. People just might start questioning what the heck we’re doing if students are leaving with not only their questions not being answered, but leaving with more questions.

But what if I said, “they should be leaving with more questions” or “we should not give them answers they’ll understand” – would that put an uneasy feeling in your stomach? Would that cause you and your senior pastor to spend some “quality” time together? We want students to feel comfortable and confident that if they come to us with questions that we’ll give them the right answer and send them on their way with a little more of a bounce in their step. How would it make us look if they went away confused and scratching their head?   It might make us look a little more like Jesus than you think.

In Matthew 9, the Pharisees asked Jesus why his disciples didn’t fast and he answered them by talking about a wedding, patching old clothes and putting wine into wineskins…what? In John 6 Jesus says his followers needed to eat his flesh and drink his blood…excuse me? I’m sure as the people walked away from these and other teachings from Jesus; they were a bit more confused than when it started. But I also think it did something we might not be doing with our teaching…it caused people to talk to others about it and work through the answers together. The conversations on the way home after hearing Jesus teach probably all started with the same question – “what do you think he meant by that?

Are we giving our students all the answers or are we creating opportunities for them to work through the answers together? Are they learning our faith or engaging in their own? Jesus created opportunities for discussion in and through his teachings. Should we be doing the same? Maybe the next time a student asks one of those great life questions we should answer them in a way that helps them work through the confusion with others. How can you create in your group an environment that fosters a “talk it through” mentality?

Nate Eckert is the youth pastor at Flora United Methodist Church in Flora, IN.

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Life Group End of Year Thank You Note

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We just finished writing a note to our Life Group leaders to give them a little thank you the day after our Life Groups year ended. Here’s  a copy of it you can copy/paste/adapt for your ministry, too!

HSM Life Group Leaders!

YOU ARE LEGENDARY!

It is hard to believe that another school year is wrapping up and another season of Life Groups is in the books. I know from talking to you this year that it was incredible, challenging and life-changing to both you and your students. You are instrumental part of the discipling of our students, and we are so thankful you followed God’s call to lead students to a stronger relationship with Christ this year.

If you led a freshman group: Thank you! Your gift of patience and grace was largely unseen and un-thanked but has eternal significance. You lived in crazytown and we love you for it.

If you led a sophomore group: Thank you for your sacrifice, your time, your hard work and your willingness to hang out with crazy high school students during the week. What a pivotal year for them in their adolescent and spiritual development.

If you led a junior group this year: We just wanted to take time to say, “Thank you.” It really has been an incredible year – and this one is SO important to students as they make their faith their own, and be grounded in the Word as they navigate big life decisions.

If you led a senior group this year: WAY TO GO! You made it! We celebrate with you today – this is a huge milestone and for many of you a tearful, joyful end to 4 years of serving students. The Instagram pictures and stories have been absolutely incredible.

We’ve got a full summer planned and are excited about what God is going to until we kick off Life Groups in the fall. Feel free to join us at HSM Summer Camp and more over the next couple of months. Your presence always makes it better.  So again, you are appreciated and we are so thankful for your heart to love God and love students!

JG

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3 Questions To Ask When Choosing Curriculum

As we wrap up the small groups for the year we are already thinking about next year. If you’re like me, you are thinking about curriculum.

What do we do?

Do we buy it? If so, what one?

Do we write it? Do we have enough time or man power to do so?

If so, what do we put into it?

Is it going to be good?

As we begin the process of putting together small group curriculum and think about discipleship, I think about 3 different questions when it comes to helping put together what we feel is the best curriculum for our students to grow stronger in Jesus:

  • Who is this for? When it comes to small groups, who is the curriculum for? Is it for students who are just checking things out? Is it for students who are your core students? Is it for your die-hards? When we begin to think about the type of stuff we are putting out, we will better understand the types of students you are attracting. Everything we do is for these types of groups and the age old question is: How do we get curriculum to make sure all are covered? What we can do is go before god in prayer, and have Him help guide to the bought or self-made curriculum you feel is best for your ministry. The trick is asking, who do you really want to reach?
  • What makes a disciple? Another question in which could have a million answers. What you consider the characteristics of a disciple usually determines the types of disciples you are going to make. Spend some time talking with your volunteer team and ask them what they feel makes a disciple of Jesus, then pick the top 3-5 ones and begin to develop a curriculum track towards those goals.
  • What is the process? I wish there was a magic potion we can drink and BOOOM! Instant disciple. If anyone knows, we know the discipleship process is exactly that… a process. Think baby steps. One of the great things about small groups, it’s already a baby step from the large group. Students began the process of joining a smaller group. Another great thing about groups are they last all year long, for four years. When you have them in your ministry, what are the benchmarks you would want them to hit as they go through this process? List them out, make sure your curriculum guides your students towards those goals.

Whether you like to buy curriculum or make your own, it’s a process. There is no better way or the best way. Each way is up to the pastor who hopefully is on their knees before God asking for direction on what way the group should go. Whatever it is you do, try to keep these questions in mind and hopefully it can help guide you to the perfect curriculum for your group next year.

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5 Benefits Of Involving Volunteers In Future Planning

We are winding down the small groups year this week. Most of our groups take a break for the summer. But just because groups are winding down doesn’t mean we get to stop working. We are already planning ahead for next years groups. One thing we are doing is putting together a meeting with some of our key volunteers to get their input on the direction of small groups and curriculum we are going to be going through next year. It is a simple brain storming meetings asking for their thoughts on the direction we should be going, what they think their students need to hear, and what was missed in the material we provided for them this year. I figured, who would have a better pulse on our students than the ones who spent the most time with them?

Here are some benefits for asking for volunteer’s inputs:

They feel/are valued - In general, when people are included in something, they feel valued. In instances like this, they are valued greatly. what they bring to the table is the best weapon for prepping for next year.

They feel they have a voice - When volunteers have an input in direction of anything, they feel like we actually listen to them. It’s not as easy to be given something and be passionate about it as it is to have your hand in something and be passionate about it. Curriculum and structure won’t be something ordered rather than something they helped create.

They feel ownership - When you have a say in something you feel like you own it. You’re proud of the end result. Therefore, you are excited about it and want to get others in on it. this is exactly what involving volunteers in brainstorming meetings does. Especially if you are going to change things up a little bit (which we are next year), it’s important they feel like they have a part in it.

They have the inside scoop - Small group leaders are in the trenches like we are. Yes, we might be paid for it (or not even) but they are the ones who are talking with, hanging out with, spending time with the students in your ministry. they know what topics are right on and they know what topics are missing. Lean into that.

We have a ton to learn from them - We have so many leaders who are just total studs. Leaders in which I get to hang out with and I end up walking away challenged and encouraged because of the ministry they are doing. There is a ton of great things to be learned when it comes to leading groups from some leaders. When we get all of our leaders together, they get a chance to share their wisdom and experiences with each other and they walk away feeling heard, inspired and challenged.

Moral of the story? Get your leaders involved, it will only make you better.

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GUEST POST: When Small Groups Aren’t Working

I love small groups! In fact, the church I serve at also loves small groups so much that they say we are not a church that does small groups; we are a church OF small groups. Small groups are a very important piece of the discipleship ministry in our student ministries department and as we are ready to end our small group season for the summer, I am already brainstorming for next year. In my planning I began to think, what happens when they don’t work? I say this because I have found that for some of our students, especially high school guys, small groups isn’t always something that they are willing to jump into. Of course this is always difficult for me because if I had it my way everyone would be involved in a small group ministry. So, what is the reason for pushback towards small groups? For some they may still not be at a place to make that commitment, or perhaps there is a lack of trust with a smaller community, perhaps they just don’t like small groups or maybe they are just comfortable showing up to our weekly outreach programs and leaving it at that. But here is the problem, if you are like me and the main piece of your discipleship ministry is small groups, then I think we would all be missing out if we just simply left these students in a place where discipleship is not happening because they are not showing up to a small group ministry.

So what can we do in this situation?

Here are a few thoughts:

Create different avenues for discipleship to happen
Don’t just rely on small groups to be the only option for discipleship to happen in your ministry. Create some different ways for students to connect in a discipleship context. Remember, everyone is wired differently. We are currently working on a 3 to 1 mentor/discipleship ministry where every youth worker is a mentor to 3 students. When we run out of team members to assign to students we line them up with mentors in the church. This may not work best in your context but continue to think outside the box to reach those who are missing out on discipleship.

Ask students what is keeping them from joining a small group
In my first two years of youth ministry I worked so hard to best serve students without ever asking them how I could better serve them. Sometimes we need to just sit down for coffee or lunch or go for a walk and ask students what is keeping them from joining. Maybe they are uncomfortable with small groups, but perhaps it’s scheduling, or the lack of transportation. Be sure to understand why a student is not getting more involved if they are at the point you think they should be committing more. Remember, ministry is relational; we cannot just guess and assume we know everything. And, if you’re going to be honest in your asking, allow room for the students to be honest in answering and prepare yourself to hear something you might not want to hear.

Pray
When something doesn’t work, no matter how many times God has proven faithful, I’m human and I still often panic rather than bringing the situation to God. If your small group ministry is not going like you hoped, perhaps it’s time to amp up your prayer for guidance in your leadership but also in the hearts of the students. We need to continue to pray for our students and for their hearts toward God.

Continue to over promote
You can say something 7 times to a group of people 7 different ways and many of them will still miss out. Be sure to always over communicate small groups, how to sign up, who the leaders are, where they are held, why they are important. If you really believe small group ministry is important than over communicate that importance.

As I start planning for next year I am hoping that we can find everyone where they are at and provide ways to encourage them to grow closer to Christ. These are just some of my ideas. What are some suggestions or ideas that you have to help with small groups when they are not working as planned? Please share below!

Kevin Klas has been in youth ministry for 10 years. He is currently the director of student ministries at Lake City Community Church in Lakewood, WA.

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4 Expectations from a Student Life Group

We’re just about to close out our small group year – Life Groups end for the summer in our youth ministry and we take time to evaluate and make sure we hit the target over the past school year.

When we kickoff the year, we want students to expect these 4 things from a small group:

1. Community::: Eight to ten fellow believers of the same gender who encourage, challenge, and pray for one another.

2. Bible Study::: At small groups, studies go more in-depth than the messages at weekend worship services, giving your son or daughter a wider understanding of God’s word.

3. A Spiritual Mentor::: A loving adult leader from our ministry who, in addition to leading Bible study and discussion, will mentor your son or daughter and promote spiritual growth.

4. Fellowship::: It’s easy for students to feel lost in the crowd during weekend services. Small groups slice the weekend attendance and provide a more intimate environment for students, paving the way for deep friendships.

So how did we do? We’re going to take some time talking to students and leaders here at the end of the year and find out, then make necessary adjustments to do even better next year!

JG

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6 Things That Stunt Your Group’s Growth

We are at the tail end of our life groups for the school year. Groups are wrapping up and prepping for the summer. Looking back, I saw some groups that just grow like crazy and I saw some groups in which just sort of fizzled out near the end. I was thinking about why this was. Why do some groups seem to grow more than others? When looking a them, here is what I can point out:

Over kill on knowledge - Seems weird right? But there were some groups who would dive very deep into a section of the Bible or go through study after study… and that would be it. Paul says “knowledge puffs up” and that is what it does. You think you know everything but it means nothing with out actions… James says that. Groups that would grow would teach on serving and then the next week would go out and serve. When they taught on prayer, they would have a prayer night. Knowing is great, but there needs to be more or a group will be stunted.

Solo leaders – One of the goals for our small group ministry is to get every group to have co-leaders. There is something about having support that eases the pressure off of our volunteers. The groups that had more leaders seems to grow more. so if a leader didn’t have another adult to lead with them they didn’t grow? Not at all. If the leader raised up some leaders within the group, the group will naturally grow more in every way.

Goal-less – We never want to meet just to meet. Goals and desires for growth are crucial to growth. If you don’t have goals for grows then you are not a small group, you’re just a group of people who meet together.

No ownership – Stunted groups have consumers in which do nothing to pour into the group. A healthy group will have people who share their gifts, passions and bring something to the group. If students feel like they have capital in the group, it won’t be stunted.

Shallow relationships - Leaders who don’t cultivate a culture of authenticity, honesty, and real-ness with their groups will cause their group to be stunted in growth. Nothing kills a small group more is shallow relationships because the whole purpose of a small group is a place to be real, open and be able to share things going on in life. Groups that do not have this are not growing.

Taking themselves too seriously - No one likes a boring group. There, I said it. Mix it up. Have fun. Play a game before. Take the group to In-n-out (sorry east coasters). Laughing breaks down walls and can lead to deeper conversations later.

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