In Sticky Church, the author points out the role Small Groups play in integrating visitors in to life of your Student Ministry. Small Groups are the main way people get plugged into the local church. He uses a term “Velcroed for Growth”. Velcroed for Growth was an idea that I really identified with. We need to help people get plugged in and connected. They must be grounded and connected or “velcroed” into the life of the church to experience true spiritual growth. Church growth should not be our goal; it is a by-product. Our strategy must come together in the prayer of agreement, unify around God’s heart of compassion, and engage our city with a message of Christ’s love that met people’s needs. And that will result in converts. Converts will then be discipled, and the Youth Ministry and church will become more authentic and experience growth. People aren’t attracted to preaching personalities or church buildings or church programs. They are attracted to a people who demonstrate love and care for others, people who have a clear sense of purpose and convictions worth dying for.
The importance of Small Groups really is where true growth and maturity occur. Small Groups must be a vital part of our student ministry. It can be a place where students can get connected to the body of Christ. When it comes to small groups, smaller is better. It provides for intimacy and the ability to build safe environments for people to open up. Also we need to empower small group leaders to be shepherds and not chaperones. Those leaders need to shepherd the flock that they have been given. They need to invest in the lives of those students and families.
I must have a burden to reach the lost and truly seek to help students find the transforming power of Christ. I think for small groups to be effective the right people need to be in those groups. Everybody might not be the right fit for that group. We need think of our small groups as a bus. A bus is headed in a particular direction. Not everyone needs or wants to get on that bus. It might not be going where they need to go. We need to help our people find the right bus that is taking them in a direction of spiritual growth that is best for them. Once we get them on the right bus, we need to help them find the right seat. That seat would be a place of service within the group. The longer they are in the group and understand who God created them to be, the easier it will be for them to find that seat. We must be strategic in this process if want our small groups to become cohesive.
Each small group will have its own DNA. It will naturally surface as people join the group. We need to provide the structure, or skeleton, but the group will determine how that the group gets fleshed out. We need give our small groups the flexibility to meet the varied needs of our congregations.
Time is the one commodity that we can never get more of. Once it is gone, it is gone. We need to capitalize on the time we have our people’s attention. Our Student Small Groups used to meet on Sunday Nights. We only had about 5 or 6 attend each week. We found out that most of our students are busy Sunday Nights. Also 90% of our Student Ministry is made up of unchurched students. So we changed our format on Wed. Nights to include Small Groups. We already had a large number of students attending on Wed Nights due to our van ministry that picks up students at the schools. So we changed our format to capitalize on the students we had. It has been great. Our students are opening up and our ministry is growing in quantity and in spiritual depth.
I think that this is so important. Purpose defines function. I believe each group should have a primary and secondary purpose. Our church has Sunday School and its primary purpose discipleship and fellowship is secondary one. We also have small groups which primary purpose is fellowship and discipleship is a secondary function.
In our Student Ministry, we must place an importance on having as many entry points as possible for a person to plug into the life of the church. This can be very taxing on leadership. In order to create these entries points and close escape routes, we must be sensitive to the needs of our people and have qualified leaders ready to step up and lead these new groups.
Splitting a group has never caused growth in and of itself. In order for growth to occur, we must strategically look at how we start new groups. One thing that we plan to implement is an apprentice model. We will a have a co-teacher in each class that will be mentored by the teacher. When the Small Group gets to 15 people, it is understood that the co-teacher will start a new group and 5 people from that existing group will join the new group to facilitate this process. We hope to have this in place by September. This seems better than just splitting a class and hoping for growth.
The analogy I used before about the bus also applies here. We have our Small Group Leaders on the bus. They believe in Small Groups and want to serve. Now we have to find them the right seat on the bus. We have to help them understand their S.H.A.P.E. and then place them in a place where that can serve out of the way they were shaped. S.H.A.P.E. stands for Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Ability, Personality, and Experience. All these areas will help us to put people in places of service where they can serve out of passion rather that obligation.
Training is important. I believe that training meetings are great, but training on the job is also very valuable. To walk with a leader through a difficult or uncomfortable situation is invaluable. We also meet with our Small Group Leaders each week for debriefing, prayer, bible study, and training. It has proved to the highlight of the week for our leaders. They walk away more encouraged and equipped, which helps them feel more confident as they work with our students.
For Small Groups to work, they must fit the demographic of those you plan to reach. It varies from church to church and community to community. In order to make our ministry effective, we plan to reach out to many different students.
In order to be effective as Student Ministers, we must approach how we do ministry in the same way a missionary does. We must know and understand the culture of the people we are trying to reach. I believe that understanding youth culture is very important. Culture changes so fast now. New fashion, music, and technology change every 5 years according to Barna. We need to be able to keep up with the changes. and help parents stay on top of what is occurring in their student’s life.
I believe that the church is a cultural repository. It needs to be a place that speaks to its culture. But many churches have missed the mark. The church as a whole has underestimated the power of culture and its influence on religion. Many students feel as if they have to step out of their culture in order to go to church. They feel as if they have stepped back in time. We need to bring the church into the 21st century. We need to appeal to a generation that is looking for a place to experience God, and know that He is relevant enough to meet their needs.