“Best practices” for our high school small groups

Tips to ensure successful small groups for high school studentsThis fall our ministry is launching a couple new high school small groups and I want to make sure our leadership team does all it can to ensure that they are successful and vibrant. So, at our leader meeting last week, I asked the veteran small group leaders leaders to give their input about what works and doesn’t work in our high school small groups — things to avoid, things to do, and issues to watch out for. Based on the feedback from my veteran leaders, here’s a list of some “best practices” we’ve learned over the years: what works, what doesn’t work, and what works best when there are several options.

1. Meet in one host home consistently and regularly.

Rotating and switching between homes on a weekly or even monthly basis leads to confusion for many teenagers, parents, and even other youth leaders. It also makes it difficult to build momentum and for teens to feel comfortable in one place that is familiar to them. When the host family is not around, it’s best if the host is willing to let the group meet in their house that week anyway. Once in a while it can work okay to meet in a different home — the C-Group leaders just need to be in very close communication with Tim Schmoyer and Ruth Nelson about it so we can over-communicate the change to everyone else.

2. Leaders who are consistent.

C-Groups work best when leaders are as consistent as possible. Of course, there will be things that come up and prevent a leader from being present once in a while, but inconsistency overall hinders the relationship building process and makes it difficult to establish a place that feels safe for teens. If a leader knows ahead of time that they will be in and out for a season, they are still welcome to be a part of the C-Group team as their schedule permits, but they will be partnered with another small group adult leader who can be consistent most weeks.

3. Breaking into smaller groups.

Some C-Groups have as many as 30 regular attenders. When a C-Group is larger than 10 teenagers, having a meeting of everyone together works great for some topics, discussions, and issues, but we’ve found it works best in the long-run when a C-Group launches into smaller groups of 5 to 8 teens for discussion and Bible study. Whether or not breaking into smaller groups around the home happens every week or for the whole evening is dependent upon the dynamics of each C-Group, but it is strongly recommended that breaking into smaller groups somehow becomes a part of every C-Group. Although there may be some initial resistance when a C-Group has been meeting all together as an entire group for some time, it usually wears off and the long-term benefits of the quieter teens being able to share more openly will greatly outweigh the initial push-back.

4. Have dinner together at each C-Group.

This has been an ongoing staple of our C-Groups since they started years ago. Dinners are usually cooked by parents or youth leaders and financially reimbursed by the church’s youth ministry budget. When we provide dinner at C-Groups, many positive things happen: 1) Teens are more apt to attend because they come straight from their sports practice or school activity rather than going home to eat and then being less inclined to leave their home again. 2) There’s something that’s very relational about eating together. It provides the perfect context for talking about everyone’s weeks and sharing stories. 3) It creates a very welcoming and “homey” atmosphere for teens, especially newcomers. It calms nerves and eases anxieties about being in someone else’s home with people they may not know.

5. Share “house rules” every week.

Every home has different rules and expectations they ask of the people who are visiting. There’s nothing wrong with that — it just needs to be communicated to the teens every week. Start every meeting with a quick introduction, point out where the bathrooms are located, and go over any other rules the host family might have. Also share group rules and expectations at that time, like, “What’s said here, stays here,” and, “One person talks at a time,” etc. In addition, leaders and regular attenders are expected to model the rules and expectations every week, as well as be intentional about setting the tone and atmosphere for the evening.

6. Keep ’em guessing.

It’s good to be proactive about not getting stuck in a rut. Change the meeting a bit each week, try things that are new, do something different. Some kids like teaching videos, some don’t. Some teens learn best from discussions, some learn best from a leader teaching. Sometimes it’s best to say in a larger group with everyone together, sometimes it’s best to break up into smaller groups. Be flexible and let the kids come with an expectation that tonight will be a unique night unlike all the others, something they won’t want to miss.

7. Come prepared.

Teens can tell when a leader throws a lesson or an assignment together at the last minute. When a leader is prepared for the meeting, it communicates to teens that the leader have a sense of direction and leadership, it gives the group confidence in the leader’s overall leadership, and it allows the leader to alter the course of a meeting (if necessary) because he/she is able to make choices regarding what they will cover, especially if a teen comes with an life experience they need to talk about.

These “best practices” are geared toward our context and experiences. What would you add or change based on your experience in your ministry context?

Posted on August 4, 2009

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