Small groups are one of the most effective ways to invest in the lives of young people. Why? Small groups allow each leader to build deeper relationships with a few students, rather than a singular pastor attempting to have relationships with the whole group. But, what do you do when a new student enters your small group? Whether you’re starting small groups in your ministry or adding a new student into your already established group, your relationship with each student needs to start somewhere. How do you begin establishing that relationship, so that each student will follow your leadership as you point them toward Christ?
1. Get to know your students – Ask questions! There is obvious data you want to collect about your students like their contact info, grade, and parent info, but don’t treat this like an interview. Get to know them as a person. Find out what they like and dislike, their favorite foods, movies, and video games. Over time, get to know their story. What are their struggles and goals? What do they think about spiritual things? Most importantly, what do they think about Jesus, and do they have a relationship with Him?
2. Establish an atmosphere of trust – Your small group ought to be a place where you and your students can ask each other questions about life, struggles, and biblical issues. When a new student joins your small group, they need to know this– but don’t just tell them. Show them by asking hard questions to your entire group. When they share struggles that you can identify with, share your story of struggle and how God gave you victory, or how He is still working on you in that area. Your students do not need a perfect small group leader. They need someone who is real and honest about their struggle but also vigilant to battle sin rather than give in.
3. Communicate clear expectations – Your small group students should know what is expected of them, as well as what they can expect from you. For them, establish some ground rules that reinforce your atmosphere of trust: anyone can ask anything, no laughing at each other’s questions or answers, encourage one another instead of belittling one another, participation is expected from everyone, etc. For yourself, you are going to be open and honest with them, challenge them to grow in their walk with Christ, keep them accountable for their spiritual disciplines, and actively listen to them. For the safety of your students, never commit to confidentiality with anything they might tell you, as this could create a serious issue in the case of abuse or self-harm.
This is only the starting point for your small group students! In next week’s article, we will discuss how to build deeper relationships with your students.
Michael is a Youth Ministry Coach with Word of Life, serving churches in Central Virginia. He and his wife Abbey make their home in Roanoke.