Real Life Student Ministry: Small Group Vision, Values and Structure

 Why are students involved in your ministry: 

- Friends
- Ownership (ministry involvement) 

By the time a student could drive or their friends could drive they will vanish from youth ministry unless they have experienced the following 3 realities:

1. Relationships with other students.  
2. Relationships with an adult (pastor, small group leader, spiritual mom or dad, etc...)  

3. Ownership (ministry involvement / student leadership).  

Small Group Philosophy and Values: 

 1.    Our Small Group win statement: To create a loving and accepting family environment that encourages students in their spiritual journey.   

2.    Never underestimate the power of relationships.  It is not about the production, although it must be done with excellence.  It is all about the small group experience.

 -       We’re successful when we connect kids into the small group experience. 

-       It takes a student 2-6 weeks to really get relationally connected in their small group. 

 3.    We believe that life change happens best in the context of small groups. 

 -       A great small group experience is creating something that kids can’t get anywhere else.  Kids are consumers of everything, but they can only get our small group experience from us.  

-       Think of it this way.  You will never have the budget, facility and staff to effectively and consistently compete with what the world has to offer when it comes to music, entertainment, fun experiences, etc…  We really only have 2 things to offer, that if done with excellence, the world can’t compete with: Jesus and relationships.  (we need both!) 

 4. Our responsibility is to build bridges of relationships strong enough to bear the weight of truth.  

-       They’ll never talk about spiritual things until they can talk about anything! 

Small Group Structure

 1.    Small groups are an integrated part of our weekly worship experiences. 

- Primary Model: Small groups meet at the end of the service (15-30 min) to discuss the sermon through a set of questions we provide for the leaders (based on the sermon)
- Secondary Model: Small groups meet before the sermon (10-15 min) to build relationships through ice breakers, games, announcements, etc...

 2.    Students are grouped based on grade and gender from 6-8th grade.  In 9-12th grade groups are based on connection and gender. 

 -       We discovered that if a student has not really connected with their small group or small group leader as a JH student they will eventually leave our youth ministry as a SH student.  SH students need to be able to choose their friends and choose who their leader is.  You can’t force them into a structure or system and expect them to always make great relational connections.  
-       When they hit 9th grade we allow them to experiment with other groups until they find a good fit and then we ask them to commit for the school year to that group.  

3.    When a group begins to average 15 or more on a regular basis we look to add more leaders into that group as opposed to splitting the group. 

-       The reason kids are coming to your small group experience is because they love the leaders and their friends.  Asking them to effectively say goodbye to something they love just to manage group sizes seems counterintuitive to building healthy relationships and momentum with your small groups.  
-       We choose instead to add more Assistant Leaders and allow the group to continue to grow in size, but be able to break into small groups within the larger group for discussions, prayer times, etc… 

 4.    Small groups & Leader follow a graduated system. 

 -       Ask leaders for a 1-year commitment.  
-       Start them as an Assistant Leader to shadow and learn.  
-       Tell them upfront that we are praying they will fall in love with their kids and want to graduate up with them every year until they graduate from HS. 

 5.    The long-term goal for every student is that they have an adult leader in their life that journeyed with them for years through JH/SH school. 

 -       We want students who graduate from our student ministry to spend more time talking about how amazing their small group leader was and the influence that person had on their life then about the pastors, events, retreats, fun, etc…. 

 -       You will see very clearly after about year 4 of this model how effective small groups with the same leader each year will be at retaining students.  For the last 10 years every time we have a small or weak graduating class it ALWAYS goes back to an inconsistent or bad small leader or too many different small group leaders. 

Small Group Strategy

 1.    The small group time consists of the following essentials:

-       Family Environment
-       Relational Connection
-       Spiritual Application

-       Girls – usually have great spiritual application discussions.
-     Guys – at times our male groups struggle in the JH years to have in depth spiritual discussion.  I'm constantly coaching my male leaders that it's ok and at times imperative to invest several years of relational times (having fun, eating food, playing games, etc...) before they will get guys to talk seriously about spiritual things.  


 2.    Winning the heart of a student is critical to having maximum influence in their life. 

 -       How do we do it? 

1. Schedule outside opportunities and/or Home Groups (1x per month)
2. Attend student’s events.
3. Partner with parents through relationship. 
4. Provide support & comfort during pivotal life circumstances


The Success of Our Ministry Is Dependent on the Quality of Our Leaders


1.    Identify what the ideal small group leader looks like. 

 - Loves students
- Ability to connect
- Loves God
- Has time
- Role model

 2. We encourage existing leaders to recruit their friends.  

- Sharp people hang out with sharp people.  


1.    The role of the small group leader is to facilitate and guide discussion, not teach the lesson. 

- We don’t want bible teachers
- Goal: get them talking!
- If you're doing all the talking your kids are NOT connecting!  

2.    Coaches will meet with the leaders for evaluation and coaching.

- Coaches are former small group leaders and/or pastors.            

3.    The apprentice model can be a great quality-control mechanism.
- Adult leader + apprentice (adult in training / assistant leader)
- Preparation is always happening for existing and new leaders.  

4. 6-8 trainings per year specifically for small group leaders.  

5. Pre service leaders huddle to get ready for the service.  

Advantages of a grade based / gender based small group:

 1.    Student retention. 

 -       There’s natural accountability that takes place among a group of students that are doing life together in a small group. 

 2.    Friendships that remain from 6th grade through graduation. 

 -       Many students will naturally form friendships with older students that they look up to.  Those same students usually leave when they hit their junior or senior year because they’ve lost their friendship connections.

 3.    Long-term relational strategy with adult small group leaders. 

 4.    Gender groups allow for deeper conversations to take place. 

 -       When genders are mixed both sexes are much more easily distracted. 
-       When genders are mixed it can make topics much more difficult for transparent discussion to take place.