Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Why Your Church Youth Ministry Needs Small Groups

This is a guest post from Elizabeth Hobbs, a missionary kid who grew up in Poland with parents who were reaching out to European college students. These day's she's heavily involved with her local Chi Alpha campus ministry on the University of Wyoming, and applying the lessons she's learned from college ministry to youth ministry.

Other than Christ himself, the greatest consistency among successful youth ministries is a prevalence of small groups. They come in all shapes, sizes, and names – cell groups, small groups, study groups, Bible studies, core groups are just a sampling of the more commonly used nomenclature – but they all have the same basic premise. That is, by meeting with one another in groups of as small as 3 and as large as 20, we might know God and His church more deeply.

For many churches, that range of 3-20 is their entire youth population. Having small groups just seems, well... redundant. Besides, isn't that what Youth Group is for?

Yes, Youth Group is a great place to build Christ-like community. However, if you don't connect and build relationships with students in the greater church while they're in school, then why on earth would they come back to the greater church when they graduate from high school? College?

Small Groups are Biblical

If you look at Jesus' ministry, it centers heavily around small groups. Jesus' core group of Peter, John, and James was a small group. So were the 12 disciples. The early church met together in their homes, and let's be real, homes can't fit all that many people together. I'm not advocating for abolishing large-group meetings, because the early church also met in large groups- we can read in Acts 2 how they were “devoted to the apostle's teaching.” But small groups promote something large groups cannot: relationship.

You hear all the time how Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. Does your church reflect that mentality? Most of the youth I know would not agree, and it is because they are not getting plugged into personal relationships with the rest of the church.

The easiest way to create relationships en-masse is small groups.

Church-Based Small Group Models

You don't have to cater to teenagers to target and allow them to grow and flourish in the greater church body. With that in mind, here's 3 different models of youth small groups that you can incorporate in your church:

- Youth-only. Teenagers meet together to build relationships and pursue Jesus.
- Youth-student. College kids mentor your teenagers to create stronger ties and teach discipleship like Christ taught it.
- Adult-youth. Mothers, fathers, and people knee-deep in careers meet to disciple teenagers.

Depending on your church's vision, you might consider different models of small groups. You should pray and choose the model that promotes your goals as a church while feeding all of your members and allowing them to mature into independent believers.

Small groups are the perfect place to begin training and raising up a new generation of believers who will stand for what they believe in. Give teenagers responsibilities as appropriate. Allow them to lead. Teach them with love, and allow God to work through them, whether or not they've had training. Don't be afraid to set the bar high, because most teenagers can do more and understand more than you expect. Just remember to be gracious and encouraging if it takes some time for them to reach the bar.

So: how can you incorporate small groups into your church body? How can you incorporate youth into your small groups? Do you use small groups, or another model of discipleship and relationship-building?

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