I’m encouraged by the growth and popularity of small groups in student ministries among churches today. Apart from the teaching of God’s Word, small groups seem to me to be the catalyst for students growing in their faith. A student pastor can stand before a group of students week after week and teach them the Bible, but it’s not until the students get in a small group, led by a trained and impassioned leader, that they start to really own and live what they have been hearing from the student pastor.
Unfortunately, many student ministries still don’t do small groups. Now, there are many different factors that contribute to this. Some people are limited by group size and/or availability of adult volunteers. But for others, there doesn’t seem to be any real roadblocks to introducing a small group strategy. For these folks, I’d like to offer three reasons why your student ministry really needs to have a small group strategy.
1. Jesus did it! If you read through the Gospels you’ll find that Jesus spent most of His time with twelve men. (And even within the twelve, He had a group of three He was even more intentional with.) Jesus invested His time and energy into these guys, helping them own their faith and compelling them to ultimately change their world. Yes, Jesus spent some time among the sinners, the sick, and the outcast. He met people’s needs. But the majority of His time was spent teaching the Twelve. These small group of men would carry on His work when He left. Jesus knew the importance and effectiveness in investing time into a smaller group of people rather than ton of people.
2. It is the best way to see discipleship happen. In the book The Greenhouse Project, Ric Garland says that one person can only effectively disciple five to six people. Even if you added a few people to Ric’s number, this is still a problem as the majority of youth ministries have more than six or eight students. If you’re still trying to teach your group of 20 or 30 by yourself, you’re not discipling as effectively as you could be. Consider recruiting adult volunteers and giving each one five-to-six students, encouraging and empowering them to invest their time and energy into discipling those students.
3. It gets adult leaders involved. If you take the last point I said seriously than that means you will need to have a team of adult leaders that you disciple first (they become your small group), then they will in turn disciple a group of students which becomes their small group. An effective student ministry depends on the student pastor building a team of adult leaders who invest in the students. If we want to see each student in our ministry reached, and watch them grow in their faith, we must make sure to get adults involved and to give them the training they need to invest in students’ lives.
Our student ministries are filled with students who desperately need to be challenged how to live out their faith. If we don’t get them into small groups where they feel comfortable talking, sharing, and connecting with an adult, they may end up graduating our ministries in much the same way they came in. Putting the time and effort into making small groups a part of your student ministry is worth it!