I’m thinking about ending our large-group youth meetings

Ending large-group youth meetings?Last Sunday night at our sr. high large-group meeting I took the teens through Matthew 9 and specifically focused on Jesus’ illustration about old and new wine skins. After digging into the text a bit, I applied it to our youth ministry and the discontentment I feel toward are ineffectiveness. Sure, there are glimmers of life-change here and there, but nothing close to what I believe God wants to see happen through our ministry.

I concluded the night by doing a bit of vision casting for the fall and asked them to take a survey evaluating our high school ministry based on our deep and wide ministry strategy. I’ll make the survey available as a free download for this week’s Freebie Friday in case you’re interested, but here is a general summary of the results from my group.

[UPDATE: The survey and my lesson are now available to download.]

The evaluation results

  • Kids who claimed to have experienced significant spiritual growth over the past year are also the same kids whose parents have regular spiritual conversations with them at home. These kids also said that the #1 influence on their spiritual growth is their parents. No huge surprise there, but it’s good to have it in writing.
  • Students who claimed to have experienced little to no spiritual growth over the past school year said their parents have infrequent or no spiritual conversations with them and that their friends are the primary influence in their lives. I guess that’s okay as long as they have solid friends, but how mature can their peers possibly be?
  • Our sr. high large-group gathering (game/worship followed by me teaching with interruptions for small group table discussions) was almost unanimously “a little bit” influential in their spiritual growth this year. Follow-up questions indicate that it is not due so much to my content as much as it is due to how it is delivered. The teens want to talk, discuss, and control the conversations themselves. They want to ask their own questions and have less structure. But they also want more depth and they want it to convict them, not just let them feel okay.
  • Almost every teen comes to our large-group gathering because of friends, which tells me that if a couple key people stop coming, the meetings would drop to 0 attendance really fast.
  • Conversely, the high school small groups were almost unanimously “pretty influential” to “it helped change my life” because they say that they feel safe, people are open with each other, and they talk about how God’s Word interacts with their daily life.
  • Most of our kids are not really having spiritual conversations with unbelievers because they’re afraid and nervous. The “go wide” aspect of our strategy/vision/values/purpose/mission isn’t really taking place in kids’ individual lives.

My response

Based on this, I’m talking with the other pastors at my church about ditching sr. high large groups to create another small group that’s more of an open-forum discussion of life issues while I pray that somehow I’ll be able to join their conversation and take it deep into His Word without the prep I’m used to. However, there are a couple things I need to consider:

  • Jesus’ had his small group, but he also saw value in teaching to the multitudes. He didn’t do it the way the religious system called for in his day by using a synagogue, rather he taught from hillsides and boats off-shore, essentially, where people were already gathered. Because of Jesus’ example, I’m not quite sure I’m ready to eliminate large-group teaching times completely, but something must change to make those times more effective in facilitating spiritual growth.
  • Although our small groups are highly influential, do the large-group teaching times play a part in making those groups effective? Maybe the large-group time is what sets the biblical context and background for the small groups to have their effect.
  • I’m not sure how teens defined “spiritual growth” when they filled out the evaluation. It’s possible that some kids equate spiritual growth to an emotional feeling at a camp or conference, in which case, their input about spiritual growth in the survey may or may not be helpful or accurate.
  • An open-forum/deep theological format may be appealing to teens, but part of leadership is knowing what teens needs to hear and think through because they may not know what they really need. We often have to give kids what they need, not just want they want.

I think the next step is to have several of the high school teens over for dinner sometime to talk about these results and the future direction of our high school ministry in the fall. I’m also going to experiment with their “open forum/deep theology” discussion approach in our summer small groups here at my house. But that’s only the beginning. If we keep the large-group meeting time, the changes have to be deeper-rooted than re-microwaving the same large-group ministry or just trying to a different format. I’ll be sure to let you all know what comes from it.

Posted on May 6, 2009

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  • Sounds 3.0ish to me ;) I love it though! It can be tough, scary business when we stop to actually evaluate the spiritual influence that our ministry is having. Thanks for taking the tough steps and sharing it here, it's sure to encourage some others to take steps of evaluation too!

  • jamie

    Hey Tim,
    It would be great to see what kind of survey you used. I will tell you though without even having the students take the survey we are in a very similar position….what to do next….it's a difficult question.

    Thanks for all you do and for the post.

  • Heath

    Hey Tim,
    Is there possibly a third option that would make your large group gatherings a feeder program for your small groups? By attracting new kids to your large group you can eventually feed them into your small groups… Sounds like "big church" to me. The bulk of growth both spiritually and relationally happens in small groups, as you know, so why not use the big meetings to attract more kids to the small ones?
    Just a thought,

    • Well, maybe, except I think the large-group needs a bit more than refocusing to become a feeder program. It's not accomplishing anything like that all right now. In fact, if anything, the opposite is true. Kids invite friends to the small groups and sometimes they end up coming to the large-group meeting as a result after attending the small group for a while. But even that doesn't happen very often.

    • Heath, what if those small groups were affinity based? If the groups were based on that and gathered to do stuff that they enjoy and the small group leaders integrate care, accountability, relational connection, and spiritual application in to the group it seems like those groups would grow and life change would happen.

      I do realize there are down sides to this model to, like valuing each others differences but it is something that we are thinking through.

      • The pastors at my church and myself were talking about that yesterday, actually. What we realized is that the small groups, both for adults and teens, that are often the most intimate and spiritually influential in our church are the ones that started off with the most diversity. I can point to groups where this is true again and again with teens, and so can our adult ministries pastor. Although they sometimes feel a bit awkward at first, as Christ remains the center of the group and the thing that everyone shares in common, the groups become wildly effective, moreso than \\"affinity groups\\" we\\'ve had. Not really sure what to do about that yet…

        • I don't think anyone is real sure on what to do with it yet, we are all in pretty much uncharted territory.

  • Jimmy

    We did a similar survey and came up with almost the exact same results. It amazed me that the thing that took the most work and time to prep was the least effective. I'm still kicking around ideas for what to do when things start back up in the fall, but right now I'm thinking we cut the large group meeting to just once a month and focus it on worship and feeding kids into the small groups. I'd love to hear some other ideas.

    • I was actually thinking about something like that, too. Right now we do a "worship experience" once a month that's intended to be an experiential time of worship. Although teens are heavily involved in leading it, it's open to the entire church. Adults and children attend, as well. I like it being inter-generational, so we may just stick with that as our large-group gathering starting in the fall. I'm not sure yet.

  • You're welcome, Jamie. Just thinking out loud here without many answers.

    I'll post the survey tomorrow as a Freebie Friday.

  • By the way, those survey results about the parents influence are right in line with Christian Smith's results in the book Soul Searching.

  • I agree with Jimmy. I love the idea of doing a big meeting just once a month. And I love the idea of focusing it around worship. And Heath is right too…you need some sort of feeder into your small groups. If you have something else doing that, then maybe you could get away without the big meeting…

    With all that aside, I think there's a lot to be said for gathering as a larger community on a regular basis (weekly or monthly). It's important to connect and build community outside the small group. And again, if you have something else doing that, then maybe you could get away without the big meeting.

    • I guess I don\\'t quite understand why we need a \\"feeder program\\" into the small groups. Our small groups right now are doing just fine without anything effectively feeding into it. It is the kids that feed into it, not another program.

      I also think a once a month worship experience might be a good way to go in the fall. Gonna keep thinking and experimenting throughout the summer before I come to a conclusion on that, though.

  • Tim,

    I'm excited to see this survey, and my guess is that our results will be the same. In his book "Sustainable Youth Ministry", Mark DeVries talked about canceling youth group at his first church and all of the turmoil that this caused. If been thinking about the very same thing for about 6-8 months, and my hesitancy to do it is your number one concern:

    "# Jesus’ had his small group, but he also saw value in teaching to the multitudes. He didn’t do it the way the religious system called for in his day by using a synagogue, rather he taught from hillsides and boats off-shore, essentially, where people were already gathered. Because of Jesus’ example, I’m not quite sure I’m ready to eliminate large-group teaching times completely, but something must change to make those times more effective in facilitating spiritual growth."

    What if several of us did the survey, got the results, and discussed them together over one of the weekly podcasts? We could talk about it at Allies, too. This is a ton of stuff to work through, and I could see cooperation leading to fruitfulness.

    • We were actually just talking about this at Allies last Tuesday. Instead of having a big-name speaker come, it\\'s going to be us youth pastors teaching about these kinds of things from our hearts and then entering into dialog with our youth leaders about it. I\\'m really excited! I\\'ll blog about it sometime soon.

  • We were actually just talking about this at Allies last Tuesday and it looks like that entire conference is going to revolve around these kind of issues. There's going to be no big-name speaker or anything, just us youth pastors teaching from our hearts and then entering into dialog with all our youth leaders. I'm really excited for it! I'll blog about the conference soon, I'm sure.

  • Tim:

    I think that the parent-factor that you mentioned is ESSENTIAL. I think that the ministry may need to shift more to the parents. Two combined influences ( church and family ) make a greater impact than just two influences.

    The parents have substantial more time with the students then you do and the parent-child relationship is for life. Your finger-imprint is small compared to the parent — not only in the current hour ration but the year ration from now till death.

    • Yeah, it was a bit outside the scope of this post to discuss what I\\'m thinking about the parent stuff, but the adult ministries pastor at my church and myself are definitely talking about it. I\\'m sure I\\'ll blog about that sometime soon.

      • I am sure that you are familiar with Reggie Joiner but when the book THINK ORANGE comes out in June 1, you need to get ahold of it, it is fantastic. Last week, while I was down there, I actually thought about you.

        • Cool, thanks. I will be sure to check it out.

  • Heath

    If you don't need a large group for a feeder program than don't do it! If you are just pouring time and energy into an ineffective program then dump it (prayerfully, of course!) What you have described in your small groups sounds a lot like the early church to me – small, mobile, personal, self-sustaining, self-replicating, effective groups that reach out to others by themselves. Sounds to me like the large group is just a traditional norm that needs to go in favor of effective old school ministry.

    • Yeah, that's where I'm leaning right now. I'll continue to think and pray about it throughout the summer, though. We have no large-group meetings scheduled this summer, so that should serve as a good evaluation period.

  • I think it’s more a matter of what the large group time is focused on and/or looks like? Many times large group times can become glorified small groups. In that scenario there’s definitely going to be a “disconnect”. For anyone that’s in the Central Minnesota region check out Its a Jr./Sr. High youth ministry in a smaller town that pulls in up to 300 students each Wednesday and lives are truly being changed through the power of corporate worship and an openness to God’s promptings for ministry. Basically, “keeping it real” and not avoiding the messy topics which are truly ravaging these students lives. Pastor Jon Hohm has a well-rounded model of small group and student led ministries, but there’s no replacing the excitement over that large group time. The most important thing I’ve learned over the last 17 years of youth ministry is … “what you win them with, you,ve won them to”. They need to experience that God’s power is big enough and real enough to set them free! If they’re won with that …then they’ve been won for eternity. Thanks for letting me share a few thoughts.

    • Greg:

      I would like to respond to this ( and not being a jerk )

      ts a Jr./Sr. High youth ministry in a smaller town that pulls in up to 300 students each Wednesday and lives are truly being changed through the power of corporate worship and an openness to God's promptings for ministry.

      We truly do not know that. It may seem to be changing but are they going to be changed for life. Are they going to have voices speaking into their lives after they graduate or move.

      I am not saying that they will not. but blanket statement can be dangerous.

  • What a great conversation going on here about meeting the real needs! I want to add my voice to the immense value in a large group teaching time from an adult leader because there needs to be direction and truth proclaimed but what if it was once a month (or series) with large group teaching time that set the stage (or big idea) for the rest of the month small groups?

    • I agree, Ben, that there needs to be teaching from an adult leader and that truth must be proclaimed — it's the context and delivery method of that truth that I'm wrestling through. Large-group teaching from a stage, even when it's intermingled with discussions, is not working for us. The content definitely needs to continue to be deep and wide, but how we communicate it and help kids live it may have to change after the past 20 years of doing youth ministry generally the same way.

  • Dave Justis

    It's weird, or God, that you are going through these questions right now. I am having the same issues. I basically have 2 large scale meetings a week, Wed. and Sun. nights. I am seeing some spiritual growth overall, but not nearly what I think it should be. I have really wanted to start some sort of small groups for about 2 years now, but have a lack of qualified people to help, and since there is that ban on cloning, I can't have 2 of me:) What you wrote was almost exactly what I have been feeling. I'd like to run the surveys myself.

  • Thanks Tim for sharing this post. Your timing is awesome. I have been asking the same questions about youth ministry at our church. I'm not sure what to do at this point, but I love that everyone here is at least asking the question. There are some great ideas here. Keep them coming!

  • "I think that the parent-factor that you mentioned is ESSENTIAL. I think that the ministry may need to shift more to the parents. Two combined influences ( church and family ) make a greater impact than just two influences."

    I think Jeff's observation is key. I'm working with the children's director at my church to put together some sort of ministry to parents. We think that will have a larger impact in our context than anything else. Many of our kids come "off the streets," that is, their parents don't drive them. So many of our parents have 0% investment in our events (they don't come to church, either). We're working on ways to do outreach to parents through their kids and equip them to be models for their kids. The problem is, many of the parents aren't practicing believers themselves.

    For many of our kids, our large group gatherings are the only time they hear about the Gospel during the week.

  • I am not biased either way …small or large. Just wanted to be encouraging that there are large group settings that can still be effective… the topic being “cut large groups?”. It’ll just take the right vision for your region. Have any of us been challenged and/or changed at a conference, camp or Sunday church service? I have. I also had a lifelong impact through my confirmation class of 2. Twas only myself and the pastor’s daughter. I find value in all the links in the chain.

    Just had a funny thought. Imagine carrying over all that’s been said here to “senior pastorville”. Me thinks most Sunday morning services might be at risk too? Hmmm?

    • Yeah, I'm not going to attempt to challenge the Sunday morning services at all, although I would agree that they also lack the spiritual influence we wish they had.

      One thing that I think is important for us to remember is that we are all serving in a different context. Just because my group may or may not ditch large-group gatherings doesn't mean that's what's best for everyone else's group. Every church and every community has a different "culture." We all really need to pray through what's best for our ministry, which is usually something very different from what's best for the ministry even down the street. We can no longer follow a cookie-cutter approach to ministry. (Probably never should have started in the first place.)

  • simply great man. keeping the vision of the ever changing kingdom at heart. we are dealing with the same thing here and statistically everywhere i believe. family plays the #1 largest role on youth's spiritual lives. luckily, and at the same time trying, my position is youth and family (household) Ministry. if you aren't teaching the parents some of the same biblical and spiritual values that your teaching the teenagers your "sticking" rate of spirituality might not be as much.

    if any one was wanting to look at more data on the subject use the qualifier word of 'religiosity'. its the term found in most research and could give some more insight. great stuff and will praying for you guys as you take this vision and data and continue to do some great ministry

  • Roenl Borromeo


    I've been praying about a similar experience that I've been having. I know that some of the kids are growing because of our large group, but it seems that we could do a lot more with it. Jonathan McKee's book is partly responsible for thinking I could a lot more with our Friday night time.

    Friday nights are usually the time that they play around and don't even want to sit down for the remainder of our time. Maybe, I thought, why not do an outreach every Friday? Games and testimony, and an invite to small groups. This sounds different from what you've posted. We have a mix group of students from jr. high to sr. high. We have not come to a place yet of separating the group, but that's another issue.

    Then during the week, I thought of having two small groups that would meet for an in-depth Bible study. Either way the gospel is preached somehow.

    I am hesitating on this thought, because I know I came to know Christ through a large group. There were some small group influence, but this is one reason I did not want to let go of preaching the Word. For some reason, the kids are not inviting their friends to our Friday Nights, and I am thinking it's because of me sharing the Word. It's been passed around in our church the word "Friendly" or "Non-threatening" events should be the first time a non-believer should go to. But the kids value the Word and the teaching. So, it's been tough.

    I would like to hear more of what you came up with.

    • Roeni, see my response to Greg K above. Just something I\\'m thinking through something that might be best for my group doesn\\'t mean it\\'s what\\'s best for yours. We serving in different ministries that are in different contexts. It may very well be that the best thing for you guys is to keep your large-group time. That\\'s what you have to evaluate and determine like I am here.

      • Thanks, Tim. That's a good point. I am looking into a lot of things right now that might affect so much of the ministry we have right now. I really thought about what you said also in the last part of your post: "they may not know what they really need. We often have to give kids what they need, not just want they want."

        Thanks for your service to other pastors. It's been really helpful for me to be indirectly mentored through your website.

        God Bless,

  • Adam

    Could a "feeder" program for the small groups simply be "big church"?

    • I like that idea… sounds a bit more holistic approach.

  • jamie

    So is anyone's student's really doing any sort of outreach? And when I mean outreach I mean good, authentic, let's get down and really talk to our friends about Christ type of outreach. Not let's go out and win people for christ and we'll give them candy if they say a prayer type of outreach.
    I find that our students won't bring friends to youth group(they have a hard time getting there on their own) and they surely are not going to have too many spiritual conversations with their friends.

    It seems like many of us are facing similar issues….how do we come up with answers yet keeping in mind that those answers are going to play out differently in each of our communities.

    I think one answer has to do with families and parents.

    Just some thoughts

    • Jamie, the family component is huge… We have a few students who engage their friends in spiritual conversations on a regular basis & in a very natural way (read they keep their friends afterward), these students have parents who do the same.

    • Great question jamie. we are facing the same problem with our high school students doing this. for me i am starting with our Middle school and training them… they have been bringing tons of friends to events and the youth group because its becoming something that they love and want to be apart of.

      and i echo tim on this… make sure your theology and ethos for outreach is grounded in truth.. are wanting to grow disciples or bigger group… i've actually slowed down on our outreach because our inreach is so jacked right now… need leaders to mentor and help with the maturation of teenagers… so really think what are your reasons for outreach and how do you plan to meet the need…. please just don't start giving away ps3's to entice kids in

  • I've abandoned the typical outreach event approach for a lot of reasons, some of which I summarized here. I want to emphasize the going part of the Great Commission, rather than trying to create an event that works as a large sucking vacuum that draws people inward. Too often we treat outreach as recruitment to grow our church or program, ya know?

  • I've abandoned the typical outreach event approach for a lot of reasons, some of which I summarized here. I want to emphasize the going part of the Great Commission, rather than trying to create an event that works as a large sucking vacuum that draws people inward. Too often we treat outreach as recruitment to grow our church or program, ya know?

  • I\\'ve abandoned the typical outreach event approach for a lot of reasons, some of which I summarized here. I want to emphasize the going part of the Great Commission, rather than trying to create an event that works as a large sucking vacuum that draws people inward. Too often we treat outreach as recruitment to grow our church or program, ya know?

    • jamie

      Exactly…besides the vacuum isn't working anyway, at least not in my experience. But has anyone had any success with sending their students out? I've been trying and whatever I'm trying hasn't worked yet.

      I guess big church has the same problem though….so how are we going to expect students to do it if big church isn't.

      • Yeah, I think it has to be more of a vision thing for the entire church. It also takes time for people to start thinking of it as something that should be a normative part of their spiritual growth since church's have largely helped people outsource their responsibility to the "professionals" and pastors.

  • Tim, I have been wrestling with philosophy of youth ministry this past week too. What you said right away in the survey results is key: "Parent's being the #1 influence in their lives and if that is the case we need to think about how to equip parents to raise up their children in Lord.

    Asking the question: How can I most impact these students for Christ? and then finding out that the #1 influence is their parents then we must figure out how we can get those parents to "disciple" their children.

    I did a blog post awhile ago about Youth Group for Parents and have come to realize the longer that I do this thing that without shaping parents you can't shape the youth to the potential they could be.

    Time to look at all the "programs"

    I think that I will be doing a blog post or two soon about the same issue.

    • Yeah, the parent aspect is definitely a part of this whole conversation, just outside the scope of this blog post. As I said in an earlier comment, the adult ministries pastor at my church and myself are talking about how to help the parents become who they need to be for their teens. But again, no easy answers.

      • This has been a struggle between my senior pastor and I for most of the year. He has been good to keep me from going too fast, but I feel as though we need to get started on something before we move into next school year. I have had a good connection base through weekly emails, it is time to take the next step and start helping them see their importance in their teens spiritual life. I am checking out a small group curriculum i might use for parents called "Parenting Your teenager" from Bluefish TV. It could be a good start by telling them it is available the same time their teen meets for group. Is there anything else that might be better?

  • My college youth ministry professor, Matt McAlack, had some good things to say about this. Here's are his thoughts from an email (posted with his permission):

    I think larger group meetings may work better for middle schoolers. They are still experiencing the "herd mentality" which many developmental psychologists think may be due to insecurities during these radically changing times. They may feel more comfortable in a larger group as long as there is opportunity for them to interact with adults and to have supervised small group experiences.

    Your idea may work well for high school students, but there are a few things to consider…

    Your influence as Teacher-Leader is constant when you are able to meet in the larger group, but students may feel the impact of losing you in that role as a constant in their lives. They may not have access to you or your wisdom on a weekly basis. This may not show up at first, but may be a factor in the long run.

    There is an important "group-ness" to Youth Ministry and Youth Groups. When you plan to not meet in a large group, sometimes the momentum of the group dies because interaction and relationships are stunted in some ways. Interaction among peers is very important at this age and if the large group is eliminated, some potential for relational impact among peers may be hindered.

    Large groups are an ideal place for training leaders "hands-on" and then funneling them to smaller group settings where they can lead. If you have both large and small groups, you may have a better atmosphere for developing leaders.

    Reaching out to unchurched teens may be possible in small groups (especially with high schoolers— i'm not convinced that it works better with middle schoolers), but it may be less threatening and more effective in some ministry contexts to reach out to unchurched teens in larger group settings. This is an important part of our mandate and it would be tragic to forget the lost students.

    Having said all that, this strategy may be what is best for your group and that has to be the bottom line. If you decide to go this route, your biggest challenge may be a political one. You will need to win everyone over to the idea… students, parents, church leaders, your volunteer team, etc. This could prove to be a challenge. You'll have to weigh all this out. This of possible alternatives or hybrids. Is there a way to keep some larger group things to continue the continuity and still have an emphasis on the smaller ministry oriented groups?

    I wish I had an easy answer for you. I'm proud of you and the fact that you are thinking in "new ways." Please keep me up to date on your thoughts and your progress.

  • Well I have been reading and rereading this post and the comments all day. Of course you know my thoughts on stopping a youth environment all together from yesterday. I think that this post is more realistic. Not completely the stoppage of a meeting time altogether, but more in the vain of what your professor says. I have been praying about how to keep the big group for junior high since they love it and it is a better way to reach them, to taking them through a type of transition away from that during 9th and 10th to an 11th and 12th grade environment that does not necessarily have to meet in a specific place with a designed structure. I have already started some things that will encourage this in the near future. Mainly I have been working closely with teens that are strong in their faith that are now in 9th and 10th so that I will be able to watch to see if they will still bring tehir unsaved friends to a non group environment. I already asked one and he gave a defiant no way. That might just be because he has grown up in the church and doesn't see how it could be any different.

  • Looks like I'm late to the party… Just for the sake of knowing, Tim, how large is 'large-group gathering' in your ministry? For my ministry, large group gathering means 20-25 middle and high school students. Our format is basically the same as yours (game/worship, me teaching, often allowing for group discussion in spurts), and I have been wondering about effectiveness as well. I definitely don't think we could completely give up our large group meeting. Just curious…

  • Brenna Bast

    Hey Tim!!! :) I really appreaciate that you took all of our surveys and idea's into thought. I love the idea of having small groups! I still think that what ur teaching though can be good because it gets us thinking. Maybe it could be a short discussion from you to get us thinking, then let us spend time in our small groups (and same people in the groups every time… people get closer to their groups then and open up). Just some of my opinions I thought I'd share with you. :) Thanks for your thoughts!

    • Good insights, Brenna! Can’t wait to have you all over to my house to talk more about this. I think you’re on the right track, though, and I know we all want the same thing: for our time at church to be spiritually influential.

  • @JoetheYouthPastor we range about 20-30 sr. high on our Sunday night large group. Wednesday night is when Jr. High have their large game/worship and small groups, with about 80 kids.

  • Our high school large-group gathering is about 20-30 kids on any given Sunday night, which is only about 15% of the total high schoolers who are connected to our church in some way.

  • Tim, love your thoughts that you are processing through here on your blog and the simple fact that you are wanting to meet with some of the students in the coming weeks to discuss further what this change would or could look like is great. It shows that you are confident enough to not only get their input in the way of a survey but then also dig deeper into doing something with the results. That is brave and bold my friend!

    We have been doing small groups since the inception of our youth group 12 years ago. Over the years we added a large group service once a month that really aids in serving as a feeder into the small groups that meet the rest of the month. Many teens find it easier to invite a friend to come to the large group as it is a much more relaxed setting with small elements of entertainment but big emphasis on relationship. There's something about the energy in a large group that makes it really cool for us here. At the same time we are very intentional about connecting with those who are not in a small group and talking with them about it. The nice thing is that most of the kids that come with friends are already hearing and seeing what the small groups are all about because their friend that invited them has been talking about it.

    I'm looking forward to hearing what you come up with in the end and want you to know that I am praying for you and for the many on this blog that are processing the same thoughts about large group ministry right now. Blessings Bro!

  • This post spawned an email exchange between my youth pastor and I. There may not be much new here, but I thought I'd share with y'all what I shared with him.

    The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that keeping the large-group meeting is not just valuable, but important. Here are the reasons I came up with:

    1. One thing iShare has shown me is that students are engaged in the preaching–there's some thoughtful stuff coming in. So that indicates that it is impacting students' lives.
    2. In the New Testament, the Gospel was primarily propagated through preaching; while certainly individual witnessing produces fruit and is commanded, the spread of the Gospel is often (possibly primarily?) linked with preaching. I'd be wary to eliminate it for that reason alone.
    3. The large group meeting is the best place for students and leaders to see your heart. I think that it's important to retain some way for you to communicate directly with the youth ministry.
    4. Similarly, it is also the only area of our ministry where you have complete control of the doctrine/message. So in order of doctrinal reliability, here would be the hierarchy: large-group, youth worker-led small-group, ministry teams, student-led small-groups, interaction with other students.
    5. There's just something about everyone being in the same place. To use someone else's words about something completely unrelated. ( for context):

    This also has the added side effect of making the group itself a bit more coherent – and it feels like more of a shared experience, even for just the two days (which, BTW, is the perfect length). Therefore, at lunch, it isn’t a lot of “nice to meet you, what session were you at?” but instead it’s a lot of “woah, Ethan Marcotte’s visual presentation was SICK, right? We’ve got to do more of that…” and “I’m picking up Luke Wroblewski’s bookRIGHT NOW – we run up against that stuff with clients all the time.”

    • I agree that there are a lot of very valuable things about a large-group gathering, Eric, but despite all those positive things, would you continue to do it if the spiritual impact was little to none? Are there other ways to communicate the gospel, to share my heart, to control doctrine, etc, without having to stick with something that's not effectively facilitating spiritual growth and life-change?

      There may indeed be ways to redeem the value of the large-group time, but I'm not sure I have many answers for that right now. I'm still thinking through it and talking about it with teenagers and youth leaders. I honestly doubt we'll end our large-group meeting times, but they will definitely have to be different for the fall.

      • If I could be sure that the spiritual impact was little to none (and, as you mentioned in the post, that may not be evidenced by a survey alone), absolutely not. There's no Biblical mandate to use a particular type of meeting, so I'd see no reason to keep it if I was sure it wasn't working.

        Here's some of the things we're doing and looking at doing in our ministry to get more engagement in the large-group meeting (my apologies if these ideas have already been mentioned–I came late to the comment party and haven't read the whole stream):

        We started something we call iShare, which is intended to let students interact with the preaching/teaching. I set up a TextMark that forwards to a Twitter account that we display (and moderate, of course) during the preaching time. We plan to have times set aside for people to share anonymously (with blogs/photos) as well as during the week (to try to connect the preaching throughout the week).

        This summer, we're planning on testing student-led group discussion times after the preaching.

        Nothing really earth-shattering here–maybe nothing you haven't done already, and it's too early to tell how much long-term impact it'll have. The response from the texting has been encouraging, and I think it could turn into something big. I have to do some more coding, but we plan to make it available once it's ready.

        • stephen

          I was reading through Eric's response and thought it was funny he quotes from thinkbrownstone. I know the co-founder, Brian Mcintire.

  • Tim,
    Loving the thoughts expressed here. I also (in New Zealand!) have been wondering for the past 6 months or so about the success of large groups. For me my thinking has come down to doing them less often (we are currently every sat night) to fortnightly. This would also give me more time for other smaller group things (and possibly a bit more of a life outside church!)

    I am also looking at on the alternate Saturday from our large group programme, similar design to yours, running the small groups around dinner, but running it a bit like our sunday school runs, a time all together to worship and fellowship and then going into our small groups.

    As yet I haven't implemented anything as I am talking to all the parties, parents, eldership, youth to get their feelings and get them on board. But loving all your recent thoughts and discussions on and around this topic.

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  • At least you have kids coming to your group. I am ready to quit formal youth group and start ministering to the kids on my husband's school bus route – kids who have been expelled from regular school and have to go to specialized educational care. He is forging a caring relationship with some of these boys and they crave the firm but loving guidance and attention. Is God calling me to minister to the kids in my church who just want to go skiing? I feel drawn to the unlovable rejects and miscreants. Is my attitude bad? Am I in the wrong position?

    • I don't think so. You go where God leads, and if that's to the bus route, so be it! Don't feel bad about where God's taking you. :)

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