4 Essential Phases of Small Groups In Youth Ministry

So often I talk to my volunteers about their struggles in leading their small group. At the beginning of the year many of them struggle to either get students to talk, or in some cases struggle to reign in their group. By the end of the year they are challenged with how ‘checked out’ students can become. I have found that there are certain phases that most small group must go through. There are some things we can do to help the group get the most out of their time, and there are some realities that we simply need to accept. Here are 4 phases I tell my volunteers about in our small group leaders training manual:

GETTING TO KNOW YOU: The getting to know you or re-acquainted with you after summer break. Spend a good amount of time at the front end of small group breaking the ice; asking relational questions and having individuals share their stories. Don’t be too quick to jump into content at the expense of relational time. When students feel comfortable and relaxed, it is then they will share more of their lives with us and the group.

COVENANT: In the first couple of weeks, make sure you have your small group agree to a covenant that allows everyone in the group to feel safe, respected, and get the most out of their time. Have each of the students write down up to three ‘small group expectations.’ Ideas like, “listen to others when they are talking,” or “we commit to showing up regularly.” Collate all the answers and type them up on a sheet for the next time and give each student their covenant. You may need to remind them of what they agreed to later in the school year.

RECALCULATING THE JOURNEY: Just like a GPS device has to recalculate when you take a wrong turn, expect that your small group will have weeks where you feel like you have gone off course. This often happens a number of weeks into the year as students get too comfortable and sometimes just appear to go through the motions. It is here that each week you should cast the vision for what you hope them to get out of the small group time.

ARRIVING AT THE DESTINATION: Throughout the year expect to have numerous diversions as you help students navigate through life and faith in your small group. However, it’s imperative that during the year, you are able to have a long-term view of the impact of the small group. It is quite possible that your students will arrive at different places from where you hoped, but make sure you celebrate the small steps they take and keep in mind that this is just a part of their overall journey.

What do you see in your small groups? What would you add to this list?

Phil <><

photo credit: marcia.furman via photopin cc

4 Responses to 4 Essential Phases of Small Groups In Youth Ministry

  1. Christopher Wesley December 11, 2012 at 9:19 am #

    Great list Phil, definitely similar to mine. One thing I’m looking to add to my own and would suggest for others is to Be Prepared To Sit In Messiness. It’s easy to become agenda driven; however, if a teen has a life changing experience he or she needs to bring to group. The group should be ready to sit in the messiness of the situation with that person.

    I think the GPS step you mentioned will be good with getting everyone back on track; however, knowing that sometimes the journey we are on needs “breaks” and “pauses” so that a member can heal is important.

    Great post.

  2. Phil Bell December 11, 2012 at 10:48 pm #

    Chris, you are right. There is great wisdom needed in seeing that breaks and pauses are a part of the journey. It’s important to develop leaders who are able to see those ministry opportunities and not skip over them.

    Phil <><

  3. Marc December 12, 2012 at 10:14 am #

    Great post, thanks for sharing. It’s been my experience working with our small group leaders that its vital that we don’t underestimate the relational aspect of the group. Very possibly, many of us will have students who attend all year, but still don’t take the leap into owning their faith. However, small group experiences can still be life changing, even for these kids. Maybe they haven’t put their trust in Jesus yet, but who do they text or call when a major life problem comes up? Often, its their small group leader.

    I tell our leaders not to get frustrated with the kids who don’t come to a saving faith in Jesus because (God willing) they’ll live another 10, 20, 50+ years. Who knows what seeds we are planting, what groundwork we are putting down, that may produce fruit down the road.

    Also, we are reevaluating our own small group leader training. Would you be willing to share the training materials you’re using?

  4. Phil Bell December 12, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    Marc, send me a message through the contact form with your email address and I will gladly send it to you. It has a number of resources from other writers that I have collated over the years, so I can’t publish it on the blog.

    Phil <><

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