Every Fall we have a training for our youth ministry volunteers. And every year the biggest concern, fear, and anxiety surrounds leading small groups. If I am honest, I don’t really resonate with this fear. This is because I am a youth ministry professional and I got into this gig because I love students, I love interacting with them, and I love drawing them in, picking their brain, and nurturing conversation around life and faith.
But if I want my students to grow and develop in their faith, and if I want to lead a ministry larger than 6 students, then I will need other adults who can also sit down in a group of students and facilitate conversation.
What I am about to share is not rocket science, but they are simple tips that will allow faithful adults from just about any background to sit down with a group of students and engage in deep and meaningful conversation.
Relax. It is not on you to parent, correct, preach, or rebuke your students. Chances are they just heard a message and you are now tasked with facilitating conversation. So take off your parent hat, even your religious hat, and put on your fascination hat. Be fascinated with the kids sitting in front of you. Be genuinely interested in who they are and what is happening between their ears and in their heart.
This is not a discussion. Many adult volunteers approach small groups as discussion. But this allows some people to dominate the conversation and others not to share. Plus this takes the conversation off track. This sounds boring, but it allows everyone to participate and to actually reflect on their own life and the integration of their faith. This is going around in the circle and inviting every student to share. And even better, to share a one half step deeper than comfortable.
Teach the art of follow up questions. In our groups, before the next person can answer the question, have them ask one follow up question. This teaches the group how to listen, and even more, teaches the group that what they say is valuable and worth listening to.
Always end with sharing prayer requests and prayer. No matter how sideways things get, taking 3-5 minutes at the end to have people share prayer requests and then allowing students to pray for each other points the entire group back to God and deepens the ties with out too much cost. You can do this is a variety of ways, be creative, pair off, have one person share and the next person pray for them, write them down. The how doesn’t matter, just the act of prayer matters.
These four simple tricks are usually pretty intuitive for youth workers but not clear at all for adult volunteers. By equipping your volunteers with these tips, they will be ready for success, to create a safe and open environment for students to be authentic, to be heard, and to have their real life brought before the real God! Good luck!