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My Small Group Model Conversion Story: How Small Groups Saved My Student Ministry Career

Doing small groups in student ministry is something I had to learn over time.

When starting out in youth ministry my assumption was that students had to be “mature” in order for them to actually value small groups.  The two discipleship pieces in my youth ministry programmatic structure were:   1.  The weekly teaching and 2.  Me attempting to relationally connect with 10-12 kids per week.  Granted I was in a smaller context so as the youth pastor I considered myself the “ultimate small group leader”.  I was able to relationally connect with about 10-12 kids per week because I was single, extremely passionate about student ministry, conducting sociological research and didn’t have a social life.  Obviously after a year of doing this model— I realized that it isn’t sustainable nor impactful and pretty stupid.

In 2004, I began to research and read about the small group model.  I wasn’t completely sold on the small group model until I read:  The Search to Belong:  Rethinking Intimacy, Community and Small Groups.  Myer’s repaired my understanding of small groups and gave me a practical guide on how to build a community of students who are wanting to learn and experience more about the Christian faith.  I was now a new convert to the small group model.  In my mind, student ministry was ultimately going to happen in circles.

There are two fundamental questions that need to be asked when transitioning to a small group model:

1.  How are we going to not only recruit more small group leaders but train them?

My answer:  Well…. I realized this was going to be the most challenging piece because now I need to convince other adults why they need to serve in student ministry.  I needed to spend more time recruiting the saints so they could led students.  Thankfully, there was a very successful church already doing the small group model, so I contacted the youth pastor and he graciously gave me all his adult volunteer small group leaders training material. It was a 27 page word document.  I literally ate that thing up and began to work on my small group training for my new and existing small group leaders.

2.  Where are we going to place small groups in the youth ministry programmatic structure?

My answer:  I had to give this some thought.  At first I was tempted to make small groups on Sunday.  But in our Sunday programming we didn’t have a lot of momentum or energy.  So I decided to have small groups during our midweek program.  Basically we would transition to small groups right after the talk.  It made the most sense for my context because

–  small group leaders could easily talk about something that was just talked about

–  cut down on the teaching time and elevated the small group time

–  small group leaders were more willing to do small groups during program rather than outside of program

I strongly believe in the small group model.  Small groups forces student ministries to get more adults in the lives of kids and enables more kids to talk out-loud about their faith with another caring adult.  I am currently leading a small group of 7th grade guys and I love every second of it.

Over the past year, Orange has been working on the book:  Lead Small by Reggie Joiner and Tom Shefchunas.  Lead Small specifically equips and encourages small group leaders for all age specific ministries.  Lead Small argues why investing in a few so small group leaders can build an authentic faith.

I really wish I had a book like this when I first started training my small group leaders.  The content is very transferable and simple.  So it does not take a ton of time to internalize the content.

Also Lead Small has a blog that is written by small group leaders so it can be a great resource to other small group leaders. Check the blog out here. I would encourage you to pass this blog on to all your small group leaders.



About Jeremy Zach

Orange XP3 Specialist | Youth Worker | MDIV | Hot Sauce Addict | Dr. Dre Beats Lover

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  1. Hey that small group book looks familiar 😉

  2. Great stuff coming out of Orange with lead small. That book is HIGHLY influential as we start our own SGL training package this fall.

  3. I was checking out the Lead Small Blog. Great stuff to pass on to my small group leaders. However it hasn’t been updated in awhile. Is there another resource available.


  4. For your mid-week service, did you have both age groups together or split for the message? How did working the small groups in affect the large group time of both age groups? Did you start earlier for middle school, end later for high school? Just curious how this worked for you?

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