So you want to make a big impact in young lives? Do you want to see a generation impacted for Christ?
Well then you should think small. Think small for a big impact.
Why small? Well as we embark on the call that Jesus gives us to disciple young people we can get tempted to think big. Big programs. Big events. Big crowds. All of these things have their place, but I am convinced that lasting impact happens when you think small.
Think small groups.
Small groups are often a part of many youth ministries, but I would suggest they are the most important part. It is in the week to week of doing life together in small groups that we see real lasting discipleship happening.
Small groups can have many names and many structures, but there are some key factors that help small groups really make a difference.
Shaped by God’s word
All small groups should spend time together in the Bible. It is the job of a youth leader to help young people encounter Jesus together through the Bible. You can do that in all sorts of creative ways, and as you do you will find your young people being shaped by Jesus. As Paul instructed the younger guy Timothy he was discipling:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:15-16
It is so thrilling when you see young people growing in their faith and equipped to step out to serve others. So get into the Bible together and let God’s word shape your youth.
Focus on your few
Youth leaders should focus on their few. Youth groups can have a whole lot of young people with a whole lot of needs. The temptation is to try and be all things to all of the youth. But it is better to focus on your few, knowing that other leaders are focusing on theirs. Small groups work well when they are small. I would suggest a ratio of 1 leader to 5 youth is your maximum. When you get beyond that you become stretched too thin as a leader. You start to lose intimacy and you start to do classroom teaching more than disicipling. We have had small groups that have grown as other youth have connected in with us and wanted to follow Jesus in a small group. That is fantastic and exciting when you see God work in young hearts to call them to him. But when that happens the leader starts to burn out trying to love & care for too many youth. The best thing is to either split the group or add another leader to keep the small group small so you can focus on your few.
Here’s another article from myYouthLeader you can read about “Making Young Disciples – Jesus style”
Play the long game
Small groups are about following Jesus together in relationship. And it is a no brainer to say that the longer the relationship, the greater the impact. Our youth ministry has developed a culture of leaders going the discipleship journey through the whole of high school with ‘their girls’ or ‘their boys’. And I love it. It is over that 5-6 year journey that we see true intimacy & impact happening. When you show your love & commitment to a young person over many years the relationship gets to stage where you have a huge influence. You also earn the right to truly challenge them in their life & faith. In the end you maximise your impact on young people as you play the long game.
Do life together
The best youth leaders make time to do life together with their youth. This is above and beyond the structured times together. It could be hanging out together outside your normal small group times just having fun together as a group. It could be going to see their football game, concert, or whatever they are into. It could be serving Jesus side by side. Or it could be thinking even smaller and catching up one-on-one to chat through how they are really going with God & life. It is in these times that you often get an even more intimate opportunity to model what it means to follow Jesus, and speak into their lives. Our youth ministry values these times so much that we have even build it into our program. We have weeks where we shut down our regular Friday night youth gathering so our small groups can spend time together socialising or doing an act of service. Above and beyond that we encourage our youth leaders to have a one-on-one with each of their youth at least once a term. All to help our youth leaders do life together with their youth.
There is much more to say about small groups, but I think it better to finish with a couple of stories that show the value of thinking small.
Rhiannon Rhi struggled through her high school years. She struggled with mental health issues that led to her acting out in all sorts of way and disengaging. Through it all, year in and year out, she had a youth small group leader who never ceased to love her & point her to Jesus. Even when Rhi stopped coming to her small group for a season, her small group leader kept giving her a call and showing the love of Jesus to her. And finally Jesus got through to Rhi’s heart. Rhi came to a real relationship with Jesus and her life turned around. Rhi still has her struggles, but now she has become a youth leader herself. Modelling herself on her own small group leader Rhi is showing the same love, compassion & patience to a whole new bunch of young girls. Rhi says ”I want to now show the love of Jesus to other people so they can grow in their faith”. Her original small group leader was able to think small to have a big impact.
Matt Matt is in grade 12. He has grown up in our youth ministry. His love for Jesus led him to start serving in kid’s ministry a couple of years ago. He started with some grade 4 boys, but because of his experience of being discipled through the years of youth ministry he has taken the intiative to continue to follow his boys through the years. He intends to complete the primary school journey with these boys, and then graduate with them up to youth to continue the discipleship journey. Matt says “I want to form a bond with the boys that will keep growing through the years”. Matt is playing the real long game. Matt is thinking small to have a big impact.
My prayer is that we will see stories like Rhiannon’s and Matt’s multiplied through youth ministries across Australia & the world. If we see that we will see Jesus make a big impact on our young generations.
All because youth leaders were able to think small.
This article is written by Chris Pine – Kids, Youth & Young Adults Director at Creek Road Presbyterian Church in Queensland. Contact Chris if you would like to know more about how to Think Small.