“Honestly, I thought you were crazy.”
I’m not the first youth minister to hear that. I’m fairly certain I’ll hear it again. At the church I’m serving at, this was a phrase I heard several times during my first few years there. My predessor was the youth minister for 26 years. Yes, you read that correctly: The only other youth minister this church had ever known served for more than two and a half decades.
I just turned 26 myself.
To hear “That’s a crazy idea!” or “That will never work!” was almost a daily occurance for me. What made this time different? Well, I heard it in the fourth year of my ministry at the church and right behind it came a compliment—something those other remarks lacked.
“Having small groups have been one of the best things we’ve done here.”
It’s not very often a youth minister gets to hear that something they’ve done has been a phenomenal change. More often than not, we get to hear the bad things about the changes we’ve tried to implement. Derrick, however, was being very honest and very kind. And I agree with his assemement: adding a small group dynamic to our minsitry has got to be one of the best things we’ve done in my four years at FBC Lexington.
Well, when I first came here the idea was always: “It’s got to get bigger!” No matter what the event, it had to be bigger. More students in Sunday School, more in youth choir, more on Wednesday night. More more more! It was always the only thing by which the success of the ministry was measured. If a lot of kids showed up, then the event/ministry/retreat was successful. If few came, then it was a bust.
I can see, looking back, why suggesting something with the word “small” in it would be welcomed with questioning looks. Almost like “We don’t do small here.” Making the change the change to small groups has accomplished several fantastic goals. All of which have been overwhelmingly positive.
Goal Number 1: Get More Adults Involved (Especially Parents)
I’ve heard the horror stories. Some youth leader all of sudden realizes that the only adults in the room are him, the worship guy, the sound person, and the mom who helped make the drinks and snacks. If the youth in the room revolted it’d be 20 to 1 easy. There’d be no chance you’d make it out alive.
We wanted to have more adults involved in our ministry. We accomplished that goal by giving them the ministry. On Wednesday night, I’m not the guy on stage who is funny/wise/spiritual/everything-a-teenager-wants-in-a-youth-leader. I’m the announcement man. I get up, pray for the night, make the announcements, then send them off to small groups after some praise and worship. That’s my job. Remember: I’m the youth minister. To the untrained eye it might seem like I’ve taken a back seat. In reality, I’ve given 10-12 adults more say the youth ministry on Wednesday night than would have been possible under any other format.
Each night, somewhere between 3 and 10 students meet with their small group leader for 30-45 minutes. They laugh, they play, the learn about one another, and the dive into the Word of God. Our small group leadersare a diverse group: Derrick, who owns a flooring company in town and has three kids, none of whom are old enough to be in the youth group, to Katie, who’s a college student who wanted to pour back into the lives of students as others poured into her, to Carla who is now watching her third child go through the youth group, to me, the “professional” who gets to hang out with 5 freshmen guys and minister to them.
If we were bigger and bigger, these adults would serve as chaperones. They’d watch kids come in, break up the fights, then make sure they left at the right time. They’d talk on some level before and after, but in reality, they would miss the huge ministry they have right now.
The great thing is, on Wednesday night, there isn’t one youth minister in the room. There are at least 10. Nine of them don’t have an office at our church, seven of them don’t get complensated to be there (we have two interns), but they are youth ministers all.
Having these men and women lead in the youth ministry in a big way means that it’s not the Ronald Show, but rather the Body of Christ coming together to serve His church.
Goal Number 2: Minister To Kids More Efficiently
I’m terrible with names. Ask anyone at our church. I am downright awful at remembering the name that goes with the face. The problem is, I KNOW I know you. I just dont’ know how I know you or what to call you.
Let’s say (hypothetically) our youth group had 10 guys and 10 girls. How could I minister to them the absolute best way possible?
Problems arise quickly. I’ll soon find out I’m not a girl (surprise surprise!) and that I don’t really understand the female mind. I’ll find out I can’t get ahold of them all simply because of time constraints. I will also learn that after going to just a few of their after school activitities I’ve forgotten my wife and daughter’s name. This will also mean I find out what it feels like to sleep on the couch.
Now say, again hypothically, I introduce small group leaders into this mix. Two ladies and one man. I’ll take a group too. Now I watch out for five guys. Five guys I can keep track of during the week. I can also call and ask the three leaders how their five are doing. From 20 contacts down to eight. Not only have I taken away the large amount of students to watch, I’ve empowered three other adults in our church to do ministry and minister to students well.
What this also means is that those five students get to know an adult leader in the church who will listen to them when they need to talk. It means that they have a mentor, someone who is willing to spend time on them.
See how it works? Not only is the workload spread more evenly, but the students benefit from having extra adults in their lives who can speak truth to them when they need to hear it.
Goal Number 3: It’s Easily Multiplication
Suppose your youth group exploded. I’m not talking about the toilet due to aluminum foil and Drano. Suppose next week you had triple the attendance you had last week. Suppose that carried on for the next three years. How in the world could you take care of all those students? How would you know they are getting fed the Word, being held accountable, and maturing in their faith?
Small groups help you accomplish that. When you spread the ministry over faithful adults, you make it easy to multiply your ministry. Say that same group of 20 became 60. You had three leaders (plus yourself). Now you need 11 (making 12 total). So each leader of the original four trains two. Those two take on small groups of their own. Multiplication.
Hey, this even sounds Biblical!
13 The next day Moses sat down to judge the people, and they stood around Moses from morning until evening. 14 When Moses father-in-law saw everything he was doing for them he asked, What is this thing youre doing for the people? Why are you alone sitting as judge, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?
15 Moses replied to his father-in-law, Because the people come to me to inquire of God. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I make a decision between one man and another. I teach them Gods statutes and laws.
17 What youre doing is not good, Moses father-in-law said to him. 18 You will certainly wear out both yourself and these people who are with you, because the task is too heavy for you. You cant do it alone. 19 Now listen to me; I will give you some advice, and God be with you. You be the one to represent the people before God and bring their cases to Him. 20 Instruct them about the statutes and laws, and teach them the way to live and what they must do. 21 But you should select from all the people able men, God-fearing, trustworthy, and hating bribes. Place them over the people as commanders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. 22 They should judge the people at all times. Then they can bring you every important case but judge every minor case themselves. In this way you will lighten your load, and they will bear it with you. 23 If you do this, and God so directs you, you will be able to endure, and also all these people will be able to go home satisfied.
How would it feel, at the end of your ministry night, to know that all of your students “went home satisfied?”
From my experience with small groups, let me tell you it feels fantastic!