Many of you might look at the title of this article and say, “Think small? Don’t you mean think big?” In our culture today, even in the culture of the church, it is more common to think big than to think small. Many times when people hear the word small, they cast it in a negative light. But let me give you my definition of small.
Small Defined: not normal or usual, not overly developed to encourage intimacy.
When it comes to building your youth ministry it is sometimes better to think small, and by small, I mean small groups. I have seen many youth ministries ignore the benefits of small groups. But truth be told, if I had to start my youth ministry all over again right now, I would start with small groups rather than focusing solely on the large group environment. This is why when our youth ministry really started to grow in numbers, I knew it was time to think small. So we developed a program called V-Groups, a ministry of age and gender specific small groups. These groups were named this way to encourage the students to own not only their youth ministry, Velocity, but their small group as well. Twice a month during our services, every student that walks through our doors joins a small group. And we have seen the benefits of thinking small.
There are many benefits that can be found in introducing small groups into your youth ministry. And these benefits have a huge impact on how your youth ministry develops and how successfully you impact the lives of your students.
- Small groups make a ministry more relational and personal. Students have more opportunities to build lasting relationships not only with peers they can relate to, but also with the leadership in youth ministry.
- Small groups create more accountability for the staff. In the midst of a large youth ministry, it is sometimes easy to forget that 95% of what we do every week is relational. We are not just looking for volunteers who will serve, but for leaders who will connect. In a small group setting, leaders are challenged to get to know the students assigned to them, build relationships and truly connect.
- Small groups create more accountability for the student. In a large group setting, it is easy for a student to blend into the background. But in a small group setting, they can’t hide. They get the chance to come face to face with other people and are encouraged to relate on an emotional, social and spiritual level. Small groups put the responsibility of spiritual growth and connection on the kids themselves.
How Do You Create Small Groups?
The wonderful thing is that any youth ministry can reap these benefits. Creating small groups is really much simpler thank you think.
- Leadership – You have to find the right people to lead your small groups. We call our small group leaders Head Coaches. They should be people who enjoy interacting with the students, sharing their lives with them, and are open to dedicating real time to building relationships with them. We assign two leaders to every small group, for support and accountability, and we ask them to sign a covenant agreeing to commit themselves for one school year to their small group. Once you identify those people, teach them how to lead a small group. We train our leaders to create an environment that our students will want to return to. We want them to be groups they will want to invite their friends to join. Leaders not only teach the lesson, but also plan for icebreakers, activities, and snacks while creating a sense of identity through the branding of their groups.
- Curriculum – We base our small group curriculum on the messages that are being taught in the youth service. We use the message as a springboard to ask the students discussion-based questions that are designed to identify how well they are assimilating the information they are learning. We don’t just want to preach the word to them. We want to ensure that they are using that information to change their lives and the lives of those around them.
- Special Events – Twice a month we spend one half of our service night in small groups. We hold the small groups before transitioning into the service. But small groups do require extra time and special attention. This is why once every eight weeks, we dedicate an entire service night to small groups. We call this event V-Groups Unplugged. We unplug from everything else and focus completely on building relationships that night. We also encourage our leaders to plan special events that continue to build those relationships outside of the church. These events can be a sleepover at a leaders home, a laser tag event at your local party venue, group bowling, paintball, etc. A couple of years ago, two of our girls V-Groups joined together, reserved our café, and turned it into the “Silver Bells Ball,” a formal attire event complete with catered food, waiters and music. The idea is to create a different environment that keeps the small group alive, energetic and enticing.
As a result of the success of our program, our small groups continue to grow. We are constantly looking for better ways to train our leaders, create follow up plans to monitor our students, and find space as the groups continue to grow. But we have discovered that we would rather deal with these concerns than the more serious concerns that accompany students that feel neglected or overlooked.
If the only way you can get teens to come to youth ministry is to hold large events loaded with free food and giveaways, you have to maintain that mentality and those practices just to keep kids coming back. But if you start small and base it on relationships, when you do have that big event, it’s a bonus. The first encounter the students rely on should not be a youth service filled with loud music, lights or media, but the formation of relationships that will continue to draw them back. Everything else is extra. I really believe that small groups are the best way to develop your youth ministry. So take a chance, and think small.