Some of these thoughts will be original.. however, I can’t take full credit for much of what is about to be posted. I post this, in writing, mostly for the benefit of the leaders who are serving so well and faithfully in our student ministry. Much of what is being said in this post comes from Volunteer Training(@volunteerhelps on Twitter). Other helpful resources connected to this resource can be found @brianmills247 & @lhstudents.
At Antioch, there doesn’t ever seem to be a time that we aren’t evaluating and examining the effectiveness of our small groups within our Student Ministry. Questions like: “Would there be a better time? How about we just knock out that wall right there?” I’ve gotta be honest, many weeks I walk away from a Sunday and think: we have got to change ‘this’! Maybe I’m over critical about some of it, but I really desire to see us make the most of it. But reality soon hits me hard and the Lord shows me that for now, we just have to work with what we’ve got. Facilities aren’t always the best and kids aren’t always faithful in attendance, but neither of these factors are excuses to slack or mope about what we are called to do.
So how do we work well with what we have-facilities and students- and make that one hour block of time the most it can be?
Cultivation: I think a great majority of us have an interest in gardening. Our holdback, however, is not wanting to get ourselves in the mud to plant seeds that we won’t even see pop up for a few weeks or months later. Gardening is hard work. It takes time. It takes energy to get into it during hours we’d rather just run to Kroger. This same idea sprouts itself in the culture of small groups. Building relationships isn’t always the most convenient thing on our weeks to-do list. With the demands of family and busyness, spending an hour at one of our students chess matches isn’t easy. But being intentional with the time we are given with our students is incredibly vital. Being tuned in to the stories they tell you; being aware, if not present, of what is happening during the week with them will lead us into deeper community and worship within our group.
These next few things will all fall under this idea of cultivation and planting a seed for good relationships so that we may see the fruit of it during our group time on Sundays. These are points taken from a video blog by Andrew Bolton(@Andrew_Bolton) via http://www.vimeo.com/53510411.
1. Communicate more than once a week: simply put, relationships are never built from saying hey one time a week. It just doesn’t work. We cant expect our students to pour their hearts out, answer questions and open up based on one text every couple of weeks. Relationships are built on an ongoing communication between one another. This communication cultivates trust and trust cultivates relationships that are extremely vital to “success” in our small group setting.
2. Be Real: Don’t be fake in small group. Chances are that the majority of the students sitting in that circle are some of the best fakers you know. If they don’t struggle directly with this, then they are surrounded by people in their school and their own home by people who do. Maybe it’s not a blatant habitual facade they put up for themselves… maybe it really is a tough situation at home with mom & dad that your student wouldn’t ever dream of opening up about. Maybe your group is the place they come to get away from it all. Your group is full of broken people. You may be the most broken in the group. I’m not encouraging you to share information that could harm or tarnish trust with your students; I would encourage you to find someone to share with in that case. But be real with your students. Tell them about the struggles of insecurity you had in high school. Tell them that you grew up in a broken home or that you too knew someone who took their own life. Someone in your group will be dealing with some, if not all, of these things. There’s nothing more intimidating for a high school or middle school student who thinks they are the only one like themselves in a group of perfect people.
3. Embrace the lost: admittedly, this is something that we need to get better at in our corporate setting as well. It’s hard for us “church-folk” to realize there are people in our own community who have never stepped foot in a church. We may be some of the most presumptuous people in our culture. Out of all the different groups of people that exist within our community, we may be the most naive. We just assume that one who walks in has surely been somewhere in church before. Sadly, that is not the case and we are looking over students and families every week that thought they’d give this church thing a shot…never to return. We are good at protecting our safety bubbles and not allowing someone who we might need to make an adjustment for, into our group. We must be quick to engage and embrace them.
4. Apply the Gospel: basically, live out what you are teaching. Be the person you desire them to be. Live it out in practical ways. There’s nothing wrong with calling your group and having them come over and cook a meal for a family in the church. There is nothing wrong or bad about setting up some sort of service project where you are in contact with the impoverished of our community(YES, they really do exist here!) If this is something you’d like to participate in, I can connect you TODAY)
5. Don’t avoid relationship issues: we have established the need for being real in our groups. We have admitted that we are all pretty messed up sometimes. What we must do is avoid prolonged relationship issues at all costs. It may be hard being the one to confront head-on an issue you have had with another small group leader, student, or anyone for that matter. The Bible even tells us to leave where we are, if need be, to forgive or seek forgiveness with someone who you have wronged(Mark 11). These conflicts are toxic and dangerous in small group settings.
6. Look like a healthy church: This is not a command rather than a simple observation. A good small group will more than likely look like a healthy church. It will grow, it will outgrow, will reach out, will be comprised of healthy relationships, and will be a culture of repentance that is necessary. It will be a group of needy people, hurting people, colored people, foreign people. A healthy group will see new converts. A healthy group will make disciples. A healthy group will eventually have to make new groups due to growth. Our goal in small groups is to become much more than a time to sit in an awkward circle… It is to become more and more conformed to the image of Christ and what He has called us, as His church, to be.
I can’t tell you how much I enjoy the small group environment and how thankful I am for all of our leaders. I have benefitted greatly from the two small groups I am involved with at Antioch. I desire to see the same fruit come to life in our ministry and those who it consists of.