“Hey, we’re here to set up for tonight,” declared a small band of student ministry volunteers as they barged into the youth room one afternoon just prior to teens arriving. It was obvious they were enlisting my help. This was the first Wednesday of my first week as their new student pastor, and I had inherited this volunteer team from my predecessor, who had assembled them during the year prior. As I stared at them in cautiously excited confusion, one of them followed up with, “It’s what we do.”
Feeling like I had adequately set up for the most part (and unsure what else to do), I decided to lend a hand. We rearranged some chairs and set out some pool noodles for an icebreaker. Once finished with these tasks, the leaders plopped down on the couches and began chatting with one another. These adult leaders were so focused on themselves that they never appeared to notice when groups of students began to show up for our midweek worship.
To them, I realized in the weeks following, being a leader in this ministry to students meant showing up, laying out game props and snacks, and telling me what to do. To me, however, their being the leader team meant intentionally loving and serving students toward the goal of discipling these kids, who would go on and make disciples themselves.
But, as my newly acquired leaders demonstrated that day in their ambition to plop on the couch and ignore new and returning teenagers, we can’t expect leaders to focus automatically and instinctively on the true essentials of conducting effective, gospel-advancing, and disciple-multiplying student ministry.
The ray of hope here is that, through clear and practical training, the right leader can be taught to do so.
Years later, after I was placed in student ministry in a different location, my Word of Life youth ministry coach came alongside me and gave us valuable training to aid us in this process. The training has been invaluable, but it has also proven another fact – leader training, specifically when it comes to training for powerfully effective small groups, needs to be recurring. It must be repeated, even with the same leader team. This is essential for the following reasons:
Recurring training sessions help ensure that all leaders are on the same page and that the ministry is consistent across all small groups. This consistency can help build trust and create a sense of community among middle school and high school students.
2. Skill Development
Providing recurring training for youth teachers and leaders, especially on discussion and listening skills, can help leaders develop these skills over time, which can lead to more effective small group meetings.
3. Leadership Growth
Word of Life Youth Ministries offers a fantastic Small Group Leader Training Program that sets a firm foundation for new small group leaders. They also provide practical advice for those who train, support, and encourage small group leaders. Both first time and recurring training sessions can help develop leadership skills in new and experienced leaders alike.
Teen culture is changing all the time. The right ongoing training can help leaders adapt to changing circumstances and challenges. For example, if a new issue arises in the community or if there is a change in leadership (let’s face it – this happens), recurring training can help leaders adjust their approach to better suit the needs of the students in your context.
Recurring training sessions and refreshers can also help hold leaders accountable for their actions and responsibilities. Pairing small groups of five to seven teens with adult leaders and providing those leaders with intensive training is an effective way to meet the needs of teenagers in your student ministry.
In summary, recurring and effective small group training is essential for building consistency, developing skills, fostering leadership, adapting to change, and promoting accountability among your youth ministry leaders in the awesome task at hand. The Word of Life Small Group Leader’s Path can be accessed at https://youthministry.wol.org/courses/small-group-leaders-path/. It will be well worth the investment of your time!
Having had the privilege of being a missionary with Word of Life in Michigan, Nathan Raiche, his wife, Stephanie, and three children, Morgan, Ezra, and Evelyn now call Alabama their home. Nathan currently serves as student pastor at their church in the town of Southside.