Mama Caro

Stephanie "Mama" Caro's humorous, straightforward style keeps her busy presenting at conferences, training events, camps, mission trips, retreats, churches, etc. She is Senior Consultant for Ministry Architects and author of "Thriving Youth Ministry in Smaller Churches" and "99 Thoughts for the Smaller Church Youth Worker." Her next book, “Ten Solutions (to Ten Common Mistakes Small Churches Make)” comes out in 2015. Stephanie is a contributing author to several ministry resources in addition to her regular column “Smaller Church Youth Ministry” in Group Magazine. Stephanie and her husband, Steve, live in Houston, TX.

(Uthmin peeps: if you’re already serving in youth ministry, you don’t need this. BUT SOMEONE DOES and they may not even know there’s a More Than Dodgeball site out there to help. Please love the small churches around you and send this link on to them.)


I was an idiot. I had been coaching this small church for 3 months (through http://ymarchitects.com/small-church-ministry-architects), moving happily along in my scope/sequence…when one of the volunteers says, “Can I ask you a question? What happens at a youth group meeting? What do they do?”

Wow-had I ever missed some key steps!! I am so sorry to any of you if I’ve ever assumed too much. This volunteer’s question was an honest one and it blasted my eyes open to the fact that not everyone lives and breathes the stuff I’ve known forever. When I started leading my first group in 1980, I would have asked the very same question.

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So here’s my list of “basic ingredients” for a brand-new youth group with “I’ve never done this before” leaders. I know you don’t have a lot of time so I’ve streamlined this into what I think will cover a lot of bases in a expedient amount of time.

1) Subscribe to Group Magazine. It’s THE mag every youth leader reads and its full of things to help every level of experience. There’s even a regular small church column in it from yours truly. http://simplyyouthministry.com

2) Plan a regular meeting time for the youth of your church. And Sunday school doesn’t count. Sundays and Wednesday seem to be the most common. At minimum, it should be more than once a month. 2x a month is OK; every week is best. Once a month just never gets the groove going. It hasn’t worked for churches trying a contemporary service and it doesn’t work for a youth ministry either.

3) Meeting schedule? Try this first and then tweak from there:

  • :00-:15 Gather, check-in/sign-in, chat, play.
  • :15-:35 Snack Supper and announcements. Add planned Table Topics to make it fit the night’s theme.
  • :35-:50 Group game/activity. Works much better if its got a purpose towards the lesson later on
  • :50-1:10 Message/Lesson/Bible Point
  • 1:10-1:25 Small Groups to discuss Bible/Topic
  • 1:25-1:30 Prayer/Response activity about the lesson
  • 1:30 Dismissal and meet parents out in the parking lot when they pick up their kids.

4) The students to draw from are all around you. Invite students from past VBS’s, any youth that has EVER come to anything at your church like a fall festival or egg hunt, all the youth in the proper age-range on your church/SS rolls, church members’ grandkids, etc. Develop a data list to use over and over. You can tweak it as you go along but treat contact info like its gold!

5) What to teach? Here’s the best way I can think of to get to the core of what you need to know: Join the Simply Youth Ministry Facebook page. I just looked at it and its where you can find the best stuff on sale, hear about what others are doing, ask questions from other youth leaders, etc. For example, there’s an awesome sale right now of books written by people on this blog. http://bit.ly/vWbCNh ‪#‎youthministry‬

6) Read the morethandodgeball.com blog and ask questions! Its the #1 read YM blog in America. 

7) Three must-read books? Sustainable Youth Ministry, Help! I’m a Volunteer Youth Leader, and 99 Thoughts for the Smaller Church Youth Worker.

8) Free Forms you will need: Ministry Architects has a bunch of free samples of common forms that youth leaders need. Go here to download stuff like permission forms, game plans, job descriptions, etc. You’ll see.  http://ymarchitects.com/online-store-and-freebies/

Okay, I’ve got to shut this down because i’m already 100+ words over my count. Comment, email me or FB with questions.


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  • Jessica Harrison says:

    Stephanie, thank you for this post! I have been working with the church youth group for several years, but never really had a solid idea of what to do. I would just do what felt comfortable for me. The schedule you have is roughly what I have been following so at least I know I’ve been doing something “right”. Thank you for being a consistent voice for those of us in the small church setting. Your insights have been a great value to me as I’ve tried to move further into a leadership role in our youth ministry.

  • Joel Stetler says:

    This is good info – my church had been without a youth pastor for over a year before I was hired, so “from scratch” is what caught my eye. One question – thoughts on combining jr. high and HS? I’ve met with both groups together for a year now, and it seems to be having a good effect on the growth of jr. high and on the leadership skills of the HS.

  • Alesia says:

    Thanks so much for the info. Perfect timing as I am going to be co-leading with another lady at our church and we have no real clue where to begin, but know that it is vital. We have about 8-10 kids coming right now. We are from a town of about 450 and there is nothing for the kids to do within about 20 miles. Any suggestions regarding where to start when kids aren’t saved and material suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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