6 Game Changers for Small Group Leaders
Every youth ministry is different, but one key to effective ministry is a small group environment. And a successful small group ministry is dependent upon the leaders. After observing and being part of numerous small group settings, I’ve discovered that these six game-changing strategies will make lightning shoot from your small group room:
1) Make your small group students your first contacts of the night.
This is rule number one for my adults when they begin serving as small group leaders. It’s a win-win: New leaders will have an excuse to hang out with the five or so students they already know, and the best way to start the students’ night is to welcome them and make connections right away. Who knows, maybe this initial connection will move to a deep conversation with a teen who showed up with some baggage.
2) Build relationships first.
Each night at youth group, I give my leaders some starter questions or activities to use as a backup plan. However, they know that their first priority is the connection they need to be making with each teen. If that means the boys’ group ends up chatting around a foosball table instead of sitting in a circle answering planned questions, then so be it. Giving leaders the flexibility to lead creates ownership and will ultimately allow them to personalize their environment for the most success.
3) Be a thermostat not a thermometer.
This ties in to the second game changer. Thermometers just tell the temperature—they’re passive and without power. But a thermostat sets a desired temperature, and by sensing the current environment, it does the work to bring the room to the right place. This is essential to having a successful small group, because it puts the leader in control of the “temperature.” Maybe you want the room to be at 72° so you can really address an important issue but someone has “left the door open” and you’re stuck at a playtime temperature. (If you’ve ever been a leader of middle school boys, you know this is often the case.) I encourage my leaders not to mourn these nights but instead to adjust and find the perfect temperature for their group for that night. The key is not to force something but to learn how to use the natural setting of the small group to your advantage and slowly bring the students to the place where deeper conversations and relationships take place.
4) Be a coach before you become a player.
This is a game changer for all small groups. A coach is someone who can lead well, follow a plan, and use strategy to win. A player is a follower who’s interested in fun and games, is happy to win, but has no idea how to get there. It’s easy to teach a coach to become a player, but it’s almost impossible to teach a player to become a coach. If small group leaders first become coaches, they’ll gain the respect of the students and will learn how to connect and have fun with their students. Coaches become the best players.
5) Make contact with parents a high priority on your list.
Parental connection is an often-overlooked game changer for small groups and youth ministry in general. Small group leaders are building relationships with teenagers but often never get the opportunity to know their students’ parents. Parent-leader connections offer three benefits: a) Parents have another face for the youth ministry, meaning you duplicate your impact and reach; b) leaders can build relationships with parents and win trust and respect; and c) students are more likely to participate in the activities of the group when parents trust the leadership and encourage connection.
6) Show up outside of youth group.
It’s been said ever since Jesus showed up on the beach with the fish: go to where they are. Each time a student is supported by their small group leader outside of the small group room, the impact is immeasurable. I encourage the small group leaders in my youth group to attend concerts, games, spelling bees, graduations, and anything else they can cheer, congratulate, or encourage a teen at—even if it’s during a youth group night. And because leaders often attend when I cannot, I offer to cover their costs to free them of financial barriers. A student may forget a thousand small groups, but they will never forget a high-five or a bouquet of flowers after an extracurricular event.
If you check out the ratio of paid youth ministers to teens in our world, according to a 2012 survey we’re outnumbered 427 to 1—and this number has probably grown. The result? Small group leaders are vital for ministries to thrive and grow. So here’s one game changer for youth leaders: celebrate those amazing volunteer leaders!
Scott Osborne is the Student Ministries Pastor at Portage Free Methodist Church in Portage, MI. He lives with his wonderful wife and two sons and enjoys anything that gets him in the woods. He has been serving in ministry since college and is passionate about relationally engaging teens with the story of Jesus and walking with them in their journeys. You can follow him on Twitter @ https://twitter.com/pfmcoreandsoma, and at his blog @ https://thoughtsfromarollychair.wordpress.com/.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.