Youth ministry is a race we never have to run alone. Every week in thousands of youth groups across the country, small-group leaders partner with youth workers like members of a relay team. These volunteers invest their time to prepare meaningful lessons, investing in teenagers both inside and outside the group. The youth worker’s role is to make a smooth handoff while passing the baton.
During the 2016 Summer Olympics, a botched handoff nearly disqualified the U.S. women’s 4×100 relay team. An appeal revealed that the team had been bumped during the exchange, leading to a baton drop. Because the Americans picked up the baton and completed the race, they received a second chance to run on an empty track. Their only opponent was the clock. In front of the world, the U.S. team ran the relay it had prepared for. Not only did every handoff go smoothly, but the women turned in the fastest qualifying time and later dominated in the finals, winning gold.
When it comes to preparing volunteers for small-group ministry, I’m sure we’ve all dropped the baton a few times. But as the U.S. relay team shows, dropping the baton isn’t the end of the story. Keep your small-group volunteer team running smoothly by implementing these preparation guidelines.
Before youth workers pass the baton to small-group leaders:
- Read through all the material and imagine you’re leading a group. Make any adjustments to best serve your students. Also consider how much time will be needed to get through the material, and prep leaders so they can set an accurate pace. You might even jot down estimates of how long each section should take.
- Clearly communicate the curriculum objectives. Goals provide small-group leaders with a clear direction. That way when conversations veer off-topic, leaders can keep the main thing the main thing.
- Highlight key points and takeaways. Like all of us, volunteers are busy. Some weeks they have less time to prepare than others. When you highlight certain material, small-group leaders can succeed even when they’ve had to rush over from work.
- Write or type out Bible verses in prep materials. When small-group leaders have actual verse content and not just Scripture references, they’ll be ready to study and soak in God’s Word. Don’t risk leaders not reading the text because they didn’t have time to look it up.
- Send materials one to two weeks in advance. Commit to planning out the small-group material ahead of time. That empowers leaders by giving them plenty of opportunities to study and prepare. Springing last-minute surprises and changes on volunteers isn’t good stewardship of their time. (Psst! The online management system in LIVE Curriculum makes for seamless communication with leaders! Try it free.)
- Review upcoming materials with small-group leaders. Address any questions or concerns beforehand, either through email, a phone call, or an in-person meeting before the small-group meets.
Before small-group leaders take the baton:
- Read through all the material. Find a day and time that works best for you. Then set an alert on your phone to remind you.
- Know and commit to the curriculum’s objective. No matter how many rabbit trails your group takes, bring kids back to the main idea.
- Study key points and takeaways. When you have a busier week than normal or life just happens, review what the youth leader has highlighted for that week’s lesson.
- Take time to study Scripture verses in context. Understanding God’s Word in light of its surrounding context helps you bridge these truths into everyday life.
- When you receive material in advance, schedule time to review it. Don’t wait, because you never know what might come up at the last minute.
- Don’t hesitate to ask the youth worker questions. If you don’t understand something, ask. If you don’t agree with something, talk about it.
What would you add to these lists to ensure smooth small-group handoffs?
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