Resource Review | When Relationships Matter

Steve Cullum
November 1st, 2019

Do relationships really matter in your ministry? Many of us like to say that our goal is to help teens develop relationships with God and others, but what has that meant for how you lead your youth ministry? Reggie Joiner, Kristen Ivy, and Tom Shefchunas (Shef) recently released their book, When Relationships Matter, which is an update to their Creating a Lead Small Culture book from 2014. 

Before I get into the quick recap and review, the truth is that I highly recommend this book for anyone leading a student, kids, or family ministry. In fact, I think lead pastors, executive roles, and adult ministry leaders should also read it.

Back at the Orange Conference 2019, Shef shared this quote from the book in his main stage talk: “If small groups become the primary answer, then that ultimately changes everything you do.” Then he asked, “While this might be tweetable, is it true?” Do we actually believe that small groups are the answer? If so, what are we doing about it, and what steps are we putting into place to make it happen?

The book is separated into five sections with two to three chapters each. The introduction covers the main idea, while the next three sections speak about areas of significance: structure, leaders, and experiences. The final section focuses on the difference between concerts, classrooms, and circle models and suggests some ways to lead the changes you might need to make.

Right from the beginning, the authors establish that every kid needs two things in life: a person to follow and a place to belong. They point out, “God has always used people to demonstrate His story of redemption,” and, “God simply decided the most effective way to redeem us was to become one of us.” So when it comes to relationships, “The best way to help kids know God is to connect them with someone who knows God.” Further, they speak about the importance of an environment to facilitate relationships. “That’s our role. To provide a place where there’s always room at the table for a kid or teenager. To create a space where they know they belong.” Everything else stems from these key needs.

“When you create a relationally driven culture, you establish a priority with everyone in your ministry that everything you do should somehow point to relationships. We think that if relationships really matter, then small groups should become the primary focus of your ministry strategy.”

The second chapter, from the introduction, was my favorite. Honestly, if you don’t read anything else, borrow someone else’s copy of the book and read chapter two. And then get other leaders in your church to read it. Here are a couple quotes that stood out to me: “If the leaders in your church don’t really behave like groups are important, they won’t be important,” and, “Maybe people decide small groups don’t work because their church leaders don’t act like they believe small groups really work.”

The rest of the book, as stated earlier, goes into some details on how to improve your structure, empower leaders, and create experiences. In an effort to not regurgitate the entire book, I will say that these chapters have some excellent points on how to move forward no matter where you are with small groups. For those who are just starting to think about it to those who have been running a small group-based ministry for some time, there is always room for improvement, and these chapters point out many areas for growth.

If you have been familiar with a small group strategy for a while, let me warn you that you might not gain a ton of new information in this book. Nonetheless, I found that the authors are incredibly good at articulating what I have heard and experienced over my years within youth and family ministries. This book is like a great utility belt filled with quotes and concepts that will help you as you lead, which will be incredibly helpful for those trying to make big changes in their ministry in order to place the focus more on small groups.

For those going through that transition, I want to leave you with this quote from near the end of the book: “Remember you may need to stop doing some things that are successful if you want to make groups more successful.”

Links to purchase When Relationships Matter:

Steve Cullum

Steve Cullum is the student pastor at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, CO, where he oversees their ministry to sixth through twelfth grade students and their families. He also hosts The Student Ministry Podcast and volunteers for the National Network of Youth Ministries. You can follow him on Twitter @stevecullum.

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.