Restructuring Student Small Groups – A Huge Hit!

Free file for youth pastors:

Weekly Info Email for Small Group Leaders (word doc)

 About a month and a half ago, we decided to experiment with restructuring our small groups away from just another teaching time and to a time of building relationships.  So far after experimenting with it for several weeks, it’s been a huge hit.  Jennifer is one of our senior students who we’ve given the responsibility to step down into the 7th grade girl’s class to learn leadership, mentoring, facilitation, etc.  You’ll love what she emailed me about how this new small groups structure is enhancing her class’ experience:

 I LOVE this new Sunday school plan. Our girls are getting much more out of it (and me to). We haven’t been able to get them to read the books or the Bible reading plans no matter what. But I guess now that they go together (Wednesday worship and Sunday small groups), a lot more are starting to read it. And they have all said that they don’t really read their Bibles, especially the old testament, because they think it’s boring and confusing, but they’re seeing on Wednesday nights that it is not at all, and how applicable it really is, so after they hear it preached, they’ll go home and read it because it gets them interested, and they’ve heard it preached so they understand it.  And with them reading it the discussions are soo much better, they actually talk!!  Haha, Its just great….Thanks for everything. =)

 Now if you think I put her up to that or even asked her what she thought…you’ve bumped your head.  That email just totally came out of the bleu, straight from her heart, and got me pumped!  Here’s how the big switch, restructuring, and new system all happened what we’re doing now, and how its all going…

 Before we made the big switch, I was all about teaching the students as much as possible.  On Wednesday nights we were taking them through Biblical Theology (the story of Genesis to Revelation in 6 years focused on Jesus) and Systematic Theology (all the 13 major doctrines from God to Eternity) in Sunday school.  It was a lot of work on me, a lot of work on our teachers, and a lot to learn for our students.  Now we use this much more simple, focused, integrative, and relationship-driven approach to our Sunday school small group structure.  On Sunday morning we give them their Bible reading plan for the week (for example: Ruth 1 – 2).  On Wednesday night I still teach them Biblical Theology as I preach through that passage for the week (Ruth 1 – 2).  Then when they come back the next Sunday, they go to their small group rooms and discuss what God taught them through their Bible reading, what God did in their lives through the Wednesday night preaching, etc.  We have two adults in each small group of about 12 students each.  Here are just a few things I’m learning through this whole process.

 1.  Teach less to learn more.  That might sound stupid, weak, liberal, or emerging…but I promise that’s not what I’m going for.  I’m just saying we already have soooo many teaching times in our churches: Sunday morning worship service, Sunday school, Sunday night worship service, Bible studies, Wednesday night student worship services, family devotions, etc.  Couldn’t we cut at least one of those teaching times to allow students to talk, discuss, wrestle through, theologically think through, and apply these passages of Scripture to their lives?  Could it be that we don’t have thinking and living Christians because our churches never allow much time to actually process all the great truths that are being taught? 

 2.  Relationships are really needed.  “See ya next Sunday” is probably my least favorite words I could hear on a Sunday morning.  That is the sign that the church has become a one-day performance and not a community of believers committed to living life together.  When we switch from a teaching time that strengthens individuals and to a small group time that opens discussion for students who are like each other (7th grade girls together, 12th grade guys together, etc.), then we are connecting students lives together.  We are saying that we want these students in your small group to be your closest friends, to be your go-to people, to be your peeps, and those who you call on at 2am when you really need someone you trust.  We must have a time in the church that really emphasizes relationships and conversations if our goal is for our ecclesiological fellowship to deepen, widen, and impact our lives for Christ.

 3.  Discipleship is demanded.  I like how John Piper uses the word demand over command.  There’s no arguing with a demand from Christ!  Jesus Christ demanded the church to make disciples of all nations…including our own!  As a church, we are first called to make disciples of our own people.  As a pastor to students, I am first called to make disciples of Jesus Christ out of our students.  But there’s no way that I can do real, biblical one-one-one discipleship with each of them.  This is why we have 2 adults in every class.  They can get deeper into the lives of each student, know what’s going on with them, care for their needs, and connect each student with each other.  My desire is to have mature godly men disciple our guys, and mature godly women to disciple our girls.  I want to put adults in the small group leadership spot whom I desire our students to grow up and be like.  As these adults are chasing after Christ, I want the students to see it and do the same.  This is why we don’t recruit teachers!  I don’t want someone called to teach a Sunday school class in our small group leadership position.  We don’t want them stealing the student’s spotlight of struggling through these passages.  We want leaders who do take charge of the class, mentors who disciple the students, facilitators who guide the provocative with good questions, and adults who just straight up love these kids to death.

 4.  Keep it simple, stupid.  That’s me, not you.  I have to continually tell myself that more is not always better, and complex is not always best.  There’s just no way that these students can possibly remember the 3 main points from Sunday morning, the 5 things I want them to learn in Sunday school, the 3 other points on Sunday night, and the main points on Wednesday night.  Something’s gotta give!  So we’ve found that integrative is much more memorable.  It really is true that hitting on one thing hard on both Wednesday and Sunday (and the same one thing for both times) really is more impacting and life changing than different things to learn every time they walk in the doors.

 5.  Pound personal Bible study.  One weakness I’ve always had in my ministry is an effective way to pound personal Bible study into the minds, daily habits, and lives into our students.  This way seems to be the most effective so far.  Since Wednesday night gives light for their Bible reading and their Bible reading prepares them for Sunday, they seem to be much more enjoying this personal Bible reading since it revolves around everything we do as a student ministry.  We ask 3 simple questions in every small group session about Wednesday night and their Bible reading: what is the storyline of the passages, how do the passages point us to Christ, and how do the passages apply to our lives.  Since we ask those questions every small group session, I believe they’ll be pounded into our students heads so that they’ll think those 3 simple questions as they read their Bibles for the rest of their lives.

 So in review, I believe our new student small groups system is producing disciples of Christ who are thinking and living out His Word weekly, connecting students to students in deep fellowship, connecting godly adults to students for mentoring, integrating and bringing more meaning and memory to both our Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, and most of all….transforming students into the image of Christ as it all revolves around Him.  What is yours really accomplishing?

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