Small Youth Groups, Boundless Opportunities
It’s 7:02 on a Wednesday night and Jane walks in.
You know she’s been struggling with math so you ask how her test went. Soon Jane is joined by a few others and by 7:09 your eight youth are assembled for the night. You look around the room, tempted to throw in the towel. Can you even be effective with so few kids? Aren’t youth groups supposed to be twenty, thirty, or even seventy youth?
Stop right there, Friend. Stop and know that studies tell us the average youth group size is 7-12 students. Stop and remember the blessings of a “small” youth group. And while you’re remembering the blessings, plan your strategies for the year.
In our church, we anticipated a youth group size of 10 students.
We decided to embrace the blessings of a small group and planned our strategies accordingly. Changing our perspective allowed us to make the most of our ministry time. I’ve identified seven blessings and the strategy we used to maximize those blessings.
Blessing: you can get to know each youth more deeply.
Sure, you can know each student in a larger ministry, you can even keep track of their home life, school life, extracurricular sports life, love life, and even extended family life (if you want to drive yourself crazy) but the more students you have, the harder this becomes. Having fewer students allows you to go deeper with each one. STRATEGY: Write stuff down like prayer requests and important events. Even in a small group it is easy to lose track of the details. Keeping a prayer journal with each student’s birthday and other important details is an easy way to keep those pieces straight. At the start of each school year we have our students fill out a form listing their birthday, extra-curricular activities, cell phone number, and some other fun personal details such as favorite beverage or candy bar.
Blessing: less cliques and kids know each other better.
With fewer students, it is easier to keep them in one cohesive group, and much easier to spot trouble. If you have one student who is being picked on, it’s likely going to be noticed by the adults in the room right away. There’s no place to hide in a small group. STRATEGY: One way to keep them talking and learning about each other is to ask them all the same question as they walk through the door. A favorite of mine is “What are you reading?” With a small group, you can keep all of them engaged in the question without as much effort and without taking up too much time.
Blessing: greater flexibility.
With a smaller number you are able to craft your evenings into meeting times which fit the needs of the actual kids in your group. Instead of general topics (which are good) you can get quite a bit more specific for your situation. STRATEGY: Ask the older kids for some ideas on what to study. When we asked our four senior high students what they wanted to dig into, they surprised us by requesting something from the Old Testament. We ended up looking at Nehemiah, and by the end of the year one student credited that with being a defining study for her high school life.
Blessing: your game options open up.
We had a group of mainly introverts who didn’t always care to play noisy, active games. Having a smaller group allowed us to play games we’d normally pass over, like Spoons and other card games. STRATEGY: Allow/assign different youth to pick the game each week. This teaches leadership skills and, as an added bonus, it’s one less thing you have to plan.
Blessing: you can travel more easily.
One year we held once a month “Youth Group on the Road.” The group gathered at church, then traveled to the homes of older members of the congregation and heard their faith story. The benefits of this were many – from the youth and adults getting to know one another better to the youth hearing about God from many sources. STRATEGY: Take your group on the road and get creative about your destinations. Maybe try visiting shut-ins, or go to a park and give out bubbles to kids, or follow our example and ask older church members to host your group and to share their journey of faith with your students. Ask a different parent to drive each time. Having a small group = less cars.
Blessing: you can make it to more extracurricular activities without feeling like you’re the one running a marathon.
Do you try to get to your students’ tennis match/soccer gamer/track meet/band concert/spring drama/art show? Good. You should. With a smaller youth group you can make that happen more often. STRATEGY: Be intentional about attending activities by marking them on your calendar. Take another student with you to maximize your time by modeling what it means to show love and support. If your group is small enough, take the whole group to Angela’s play or Matt’s track meet.
Blessing: Ice cream.
If only two show up for youth group, you can pack them up and take them to Dairy Queen for the evening. STRATEGY: If you need my advice for what ice cream to order, I’m always available for a DQ run!
What blessings and strategies have you seen and used in your ministry?
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.