What has 2022 brought to your student ministry thus far? Are you still dealing with uncertainties related to COVID? Are you struggling through disruptions due to winter weather? In many places, these issues have compounded the usual difficulties youth leaders face as we return from Christmas break and attempt to regain forward progress in our small groups.
Rather than simply waiting out the weather and COVID, could it be that our influence with our students might be enhanced with a little extra effort? Certainly, the answer is yes! To me, it’s all about the personal touch.
We all know how important it is to connect with students on a personal level, but it’s even more important when progress is stalled. Maybe a new commitment to personal communication with your small group members will get you back into your role as a disciple maker, despite the seasonal obstacles mentioned above. Some points to ponder:
1. Make it personal–when you call out to everyone, you’re probably reaching no one
Consider the last time you sat in a session and heard a mass appeal to move in a new direction or take on a new challenge. Chances are, you weren’t moved to action unless the topic was one that resonated within your heart.
Sad to say, but when you admonish your small group to “be faithful” or to “get into the Word” or anything spiritual, your words tend to fly right past them unless their interest has been piqued. Not to say that the inspiring message they heard a few minutes before during the Bible lesson can’t change their perspective, or that the Holy Spirit can’t transform their thinking–it’s just that what you said was directed to ‘them’ as a group and not to ‘him or her’ as an individual.
2. Make it about them
I work in a ministry that emphasizes core spiritual disciplines as a catalyst to growth and maturity in Christ. We believe the most effective leaders will model disciplines like daily quiet time and Scripture memory. But, when training youth leaders in small group effectiveness, we always emphasize relationship over duty. So, when you reach out to a student individually, don’t make it all about the disciplines. Consider starting the conversation with something like, “Tell me how your week is going.”
3. Connect truth to life
Regardless of your method (text, social media, personal conversation, etc.), don’t stay in the shallow waters. If you truly want to influence the student toward maturity in Christ, drive your connection toward spiritual truth. This doesn’t necessarily mean you throw spiritual bombs into the conversation, and this is not a contradiction of the above point. Just listen and help them think biblically about the issues that arise. This, too, is about them.
4. Develop personal communication as a habit
Discipling others is a long-haul process, as you know. Life-on-life interaction surely includes the personal touch discussed here. So, whatever it takes, make the time to reach out to your students personally. This period immediately following the holidays might be the best time to double down and make this habit stick!
David Livingston has served youth and leaders in the local church for more than 25 years as a volunteer and full-time missionary. His life purpose is to teach and coach others in their journey together as fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. He and his wife of 41 years, Earlene, enjoy camping and hiking and being with their nine grandkids. They live in Oak Ridge, Tenn.