For a long time I struggled with getting small groups started at a church that doesn’t really subscribe to the whole “home group” idea. That was my whole perception of what a small group had to be: meeting at home with a group of eight students or so and having “small group” discussions. Now my mindset has changed and I’m realizing that a lot of what we already had in place for midweek classes and gatherings were providing the community and interaction that I thought our students might be missing out on. For instance…
What we call “Catalyst Discipleship”, a Sunday evening gathering of students after our worship service, has become one of my favorite times of student ministry during the week. It’s definitely a smaller group than our regular weekly program; it’s promoted as a place to “grow deeper with others”.
The format is fairly simple:
ACCOUNTABILITY: Maybe even a better phrase here would be “sharing life together. We typically open up by asking students to break into groups with one or two other students and share something specific about their personal spiritual life. Recent items of discussion we’ve used are: “What did God speak to your heart this week?”, “Do you feel like you are growing closer to God?”, and “What is one action point in your life where you heard God tell you to step out in faith?”
We encourage students that if their partner does not have an answer or is struggling with an issue that their role becomes that of an encourager. We go from this time into…
PRAYER: We want students in our ministry to be comfortable praying with and for each other so we make it a regular part of what we do.
SHORT TRUTH: What I mean by “short truth” is that this isn’t the night for me to write up a twenty minute message to share with the students. I want to present a pop culture idea, biblical truth, hot topic, etc. and then let the students disseminate it rather than me give a lecture or be the “talking head” up front.
There’s lots of great resources to make this easy, too. I like to use short video clips to set up the night. Examples of resources that we’ve used in the past include Nooma, the Skit Guys’ “You Teach” curriculum, and Trigger.
QUESTIONS: Ask questions and get out of the way. It’s as simple as that.
Your role becomes that of just facilitating good questions and sometimes helping that one kid to stay on topic. Don’t be afraid of silence after you ask a question. Ask it again in a different way. Give them some time to process and think it through before giving up or answering the question yourself.
And, honestly, to even list a format such as the one above seems too structured for what we do. You can break a large group down into a small group with leaders any time and anywhere. The idea is getting down to smaller numbers so that everyone gets a chance to share and be a part of the process. It’s great for relation-building.
What I love about our Sunday night group is that we’ve grown a really close group of students. We get together and have committed to loving and growing with each other. It’s not uncommon for us to tear up while sharing an emotional, real-life story with each other or, on the other end of the spectrum, laugh it up so hard that we’re all in tears. It just feels like a family. As Doug Field’s tends to say, “We weren’t wired to do life alone.” The community and relationships that are built in small group gatherings are a vital part of the health and impact of our student ministry. That’s why is I think it is so important to make small groups “BIG” in your ministry.