I’ve been a Kansas boy my whole life, so summer to me typically meant 100-plus degree weather and long days spent at the pool. As a kid, I loved the idea of being away from school and not having to do homework, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the heat and not seeing my friends every day. I enjoyed my summers, but in the back of my mind I was always looking forward to the fall again. Lately, something strange has happened with the weather here in Kansas, and as the temperatures dip down into the 70’s, I’m thinking about fall again!
As a youth worker, one of my favorite parts of fall is launching something new…especially new small groups! Here are some thoughts on how you can get the most out of your junior high small groups this fall.
- Fall is a natural “starting point” for new groups. As students return to school, they’re naturally conditioned to try new things. Use this to your advantage by launching new small groups. Every situation is different, but I still recommend keeping students separated by gender first, and then grade level if possible. By keeping them separated, you’re more likely to have honest conversation.
- Quantity vs. Quality. Face it. Our small groups aren’t going to be life-changing experiences every time they get together. Look at how long it took Jesus to get through to the disciples…and He’s Jesus! You’ve got to accept the fact that in order to get to the quality time, you’ve got to put in a quantity of time. In my sixth grade boys group, my co-leaders and I just say the word “quantity” to each other whenever our group is rapidly moving out of control. Those times can test you, but it’s all worth it when you hit a “quality” moment and you see God’s truth click in the heart and mind of a student.
- Don’t be afraid to go “off-lesson”. We’ve all been there. You work for hours prepping a lesson that is destined to become your “sermon on the mount”, only to find that your students want to talk about something completely different and totally unrelated. What do you do? GO THERE! If your students want to talk about something, don’t be afraid of the rabbit trail…journey down it a bit to see what’s lying at the root of it. Often times, these “rabbit trails” in junior high conversation can lead to core issues that our students are really struggling with. It may not be the lesson you prepared, but it might just be the subject that your kids seriously need God’s wisdom on.
- Build a community, not just a small group. If you really want to see something amazing happen in your small groups this year, then don’t just focus on building a small group. Instead, focus on building small supportive communities within your youth ministry. Empower and encourage your small group leaders to get together with their small groups outside of the regular meeting times. Make sure they’re following safe guidelines established by your ministry to protect students and leaders, but then release them to build relationships. IF you want to see God do something really powerful in your youth ministry this fall, equip and release a caring adult to invest in the life of a student.
I love fall. I love the colors of the trees in autumn, the drop in temperature and the joy of sipping a hot chocolate at a football game on a cold Friday night. Whether you love fall or not, don’t miss out on a great opportunity to build community and start something new.