Articles | Small Groups

Kurt Johnston has been a youth pastor since 1988 and currently leads the student ministries team at Saddleback Church in Southern California. Widely regarded as one of the most trusted voices in youth ministry, Kurt loves to encourage other youth workers and has written and created over 50 books and resources with that goal in mind. In his free time, Kurt enjoys surfing and riding dirt bikes in the desert with his wife and two children.

Week three of this series may be a good time to come clean. I’m not a very good small group leader…a small group guru I ain’t! But I’ve observed some of the best (because I’m so bad I always partner with somebody really good!). I’ve asked other small group leaders for tips and I’ve tried to learn from my own mistakes and relatively few moments of success! Where I struggle most seems to be during the formal, weekly, 90-minute group time…which to me seems like a fairly important part of the small group experience! Below are a few “Guru Skills” I’ve learned over the years that, when I remember to implement them, have proven successful every time!

* Small Group is for the Small Groupees!

In other words it’s about them, not me. Having this mindset as I head into small group each week is a game changer. Sometimes the guys in my group need to jump on the trampoline for a few extra minutes, sometimes they need to have the freedom to head down a rabbit trail instead of the curriculum, sometimes they need extra prayer time, and sometimes they need to skip it altogether. The small group I lead isn’t for my benefit (although there is a TON of benefit in it for me), it’s for theirs. A small group guru must recognize this and become skilled at leading well but doing so with a loose grip.

* Experience is the Best Education.

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In our youth ministry purpose statement and paradigm, we designate small groups as the place students “EXPERIENCE Christ, his kingdom, and the purposes of his church.” We have built into our philosophy of ministry the expectation that our small groups aren’t to be a lecture-driven, classroom-feeling, adult knowledge-dispensing atmosphere. Instead, our small groups are designed to be experiential in nature, because we know that what is experienced is often what sticks the longest. As a guy who likes to teach, likes to hear himself talk, and thinks he has pretty good stuff to say, this one can be tough for me. But when I get it right, it is downright Guru-ish! Need one easy way to make your small group more experiential? Read on!

* Big Ears; Small Mouth.

I’ve learned that there is a direct(ish) correlation between the amount of time I spend talking in small group and the success of that particular gathering. The correlation: The less I talk, the better things go!  Small groups are the perfect setting for creative learning experiences, case studies, role playing, etc. A small group in which everybody has an opportunity to respond to one or two good questions is far better than one in which the adult leader pontificates on the topic for 30-minutes. Here’s what happens when you talk less: They talk more! And if you are listening, good stuff bubbles to the surface! Teenagers are starving for adults to truly listen to them and to take seriously what they have to say. So when they speak, listen. Then, instead of giving them the answer of sharing your infinite wisdom, ask a follow up question and listen some more.


Yep, you are reading a small group Guru series from a non-Guru. But I’m learning, and hopefully you are, too. And the quest for knowledge and wisdom seems very Guru-like to me!


– Kurt / @kurtjohnston


P.S. – Check out all of the resources Simply Youth Ministry has to offer for developing your small group leaders! For example, 99 Thoughts for Small Group Leaders is a good place to start! OR get a FREE copy of the digital version of Small Groups From Start to Finish when you start a free 45-day LIVE Curriculum trial today.

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  • grace D. Rupidara says:

    How are you, I like to know what subjeck for discuss every meeting? and how we can work together? what focus for mission?

  • grace D. Rupidara says:

    I like to help people at the village, please to pray for my pleaning

  • Mr k Tsikang says:

    Thanks for the massages God bless you

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