Last week in our student ministry we finished our last teaching series for the school year. Each school year we try and cover at least two books of the Bible (usually an Old Testament and New Testament book). Earlier this year we went through the book of Jonah, which was one of my favorite teaching series of all time, and for the past six weeks we have been going through the book of Acts. You might be wondering how we fit the entire book of Acts into just six weeks. I’m glad you asked. That’s why I am writing this post.
To cover the book of Acts in six weeks we combined two things: teaching and personal reading. Lets talk first about teaching. Over the six weeks students heard talks from various parts of Acts. I didn’t just randomly chose parts of Acts to teach on. Instead I looked through the book of Acts and picked out six different passages that seem to be key points in the narrative but also passages that highlighted something I felt like the students in our context needed to hear and understand. The six places in Acts we taught from were: Intro, Promise, and Call (Acts 1:1-11), Early Church (Acts 4:23-37), Stephen Martydom (Acts 6:5, 8-7:60), Paul’s Conversion (Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-9, 15), Paul and Silas Rescued from Prison (Acts 16:22-34), and Paul in Athens (Acts 17:16-34). Feel free to click here to listen to these talks from our high school ministry mid-week services. There were so many more passages in Acts I wanted to cover but with only six weeks I couldn’t. That’s why we didn’t just settle with teaching from these six places in Acts and forgot the rest. Instead, as I said before, we combined the teaching with personal reading.
For the personal reading part of this series we broke down the book of Acts into a forty day reading plan. Each day had students reading about half a chapter while a few days had them reading an entire chapter. We then put this reading plan on a bookmark sized card and called it the “Acts Reading Challenge” (click here to see one of these cards that was completed by a student). We gave these out at the beginning of the series and challenged students to read the entire book of Acts on their own before the end of the series. Once completed we asked students to turn their cards back in to receive a gift. I wish I could say all our students took this challenge but some did and I couldn’t be more proud of those students that took the time to read God’s Word.
This was the first time I have ever combined teaching and personal reading for a series and I plan to do it again next time we go through a book of the Bible with our students. Like any plan there were things I liked and things I believe we did well, but there were also things that didn’t work well and we will need to adjust next time around. However, I enjoyed being able teach from specific places in the book of Acts while equipping and encouraging our students to read the rest on their own.
Every student ministry loves to see new students walk through their doors. With this comes our responsibility to make sure these new students feel welcomed right off the bat. I’m sure there are many students who go to a student ministry program for the first time and leave never to return again because they didn’t feel welcomed. I want to share a few things with you that we do in our student ministry to help new students feel welcomed. Don’t mistake the name tag picture to be a suggestion on how to make new students feel welcomed. Name tags will just make them feel awkward. Don’t do it. Follow the suggestions below.
Train your student leaders to look out for new students and to connect with them as soon as a new student walks in. In our high school ministry we have a student leadership team made up of students from 10th-12th grades. One of the weekly responsibilities of this team is to be on the lookout for new students and to be ready to connect with a new student when they walk through our doors. I encourage them to ask them where they go to school, what grade are they in, what kinds of things do they like to do, and what made them to decide to check out our ministry. Even if you don’t have an official student leadership team you can train a few students to do this on a weekly basis. Not all students are great at this. You will have some students who are naturally more friendly and can easily walk up to a stranger and start a conversation. Find a few students who are gifted in this area and put them to work. The best way to help a new student feel welcomed to to have a another student welcome them and spend some time talking to them. The sooner this happens the better so train your student leaders to be quick to welcome and talk to a new student.
Train your adult leaders to connect with new students as well. Not only do new students need to be welcomed by another student, they also need to be welcomed by an adult leaders. Train your adults leaders to be looking out for new students. Train them to not just look out for them but to actually talk to them and to get to know them. It makes a huge impact on a student, especially a new student, when an adult intentionally talks to them and shows an interest in them. It’s easy for our adult leaders to clump up together and not connect with new students. For many adults, talking to a teenager is not always easy and at times very intimidating. But our adult leaders have to be willing to leave their comfort zones and connect with both new and regular students.
Train yourself to talk from upfront with new students in mind. Whenever you the student pastor stands or main leaders stands upfront and talks to the crowd of students, make sure you talk with new students in mind. Don’t just jump up there and welcome them to your program. A new student will not know who you are so introduce yourself. If you have trained your student and adults leaders well than new students have been talking to them all the way up until your program starts. Once it starts and you get upfront, quickly introduce yourself and give a general welcome. I also make sure I do a few other things when it comes to this idea of keeping new students in mind when upfront. Whenever I start my message, I always quickly review the current teaching series we are in as well as what we have talked about the weeks prior. Also, when I talk about things like retreats and mission trips I always explain what these look like and why we do them. All these things are things that are regular students know and may not want to hear explained over and over but making a new student feel welcomed and comfortable is more important.
These are just a few things we do on a weekly basis to help new students feel welcomed when they walk through the doors of our ministry. Even though I think we do well in this area we have not arrived. We can always get better. I’d love to hear from you. What are some things you do to make new students feel welcomed when they walk through the doors of your student ministry?
Small groups are an important part of an effective student ministry. They are important because they move students past just showing up at youth group every week and listening to you teach. Small groups move students to a place where they can better develop community with their peers (and an adult leader or two) as well going deeper into God’s Word. These two factors, community and Bible study, will help them grow in their faith. This is what we want as student pastors. We want students to develop community and dig deeper into God’s Word. So we make small groups a part of our student ministry. But how do we structure those small groups? Do we do them in homes? Do we do them within our mid-week or weekend gathering? Do we make them something for every student or just students who want to go deeper? These are all good questions to ask when thinking about how to structure small groups in your student ministry.
This past year we restructured our small groups and are planning to tweak them yet again this coming year. Because of this I have been doing a lot of thinking about how small groups are structured in our student ministry. I have also been talking to other student pastors about how they structure small groups in their ministry. There are many different ways you can structure small groups. There is not one perfect way. Every student ministry looks different and small groups will look different in every ministry. However, I have seen and be a part of three different structures of small groups in student ministries that I believe are effective. Let me share those with you.
Small groups in homes of adult leaders outside your normal mid-week or weekend program. This by far is the most popular way to structure small groups in your student ministry. Basically students meet in small groups in leaders homes throughout the community. It could be on the same night or different nights. Leaders open up their homes and the students in their small groups meet there to build community and study the Bible. This happens outside your normal “youth group night.” The positives to this structure is that small groups are there as a “next step” for students who want to go deeper. You don’t force students who may not be Christians or that are not ready to go deeper into a small group. Your large group gathering serves as a place for non-Christians to feel comfortable and hear the Gospel. Also, this structure helps students feel safe and comfortable as they meet in a home. Plus, adult leaders get to display hospitality and fellowship by opening up their homes to students. The major downside of this structure is your asking students to give up another night of the week. They are already coming to your large group gathering and now you ask them to give up another night for small groups. For busy students this may be difficult and keep them from getting involved in a small group.
Small groups every other week in place of your mid-week or weekend program. This is the structure we are currently doing with our middle & high school students. We are actually moving away from this and going to in homes outside of our large group gathering for high school students next year, but keeping it this way for middle school. This is a great structure if you want to see all your students be in on a form of small groups. Basically small groups happen every other week in place of your large group gathering. You can have them come to the same place you meet for large group and then just have them split up into groups or you can have them meet in homes at the same time you would meet for large group. Either way, small groups happen on the same night/time of your large group. This is a great way to not make your students give up another night. It allows you to accomplish both large & small group ministry in one ministry night a week. The downside to this structure is you may scare away non-Christian students who don’t want to be in a small group yet. Also, your students may not want to invite their non-Christian friends because they know they will be split up into small groups and it may be uncomfortable for them.
Small groups every week as part of your mid-week or weekend program. Basically you make small groups a part of your large group gathering. Most student ministries that do this will have small group following the teaching time so students can discuss what they just heard. Again, this is a great way to not make your students give up another night. Also, it helps every student get a form of small group ministry. I like this structure because it allows students to instantly discuss and talk about what they just heard. The downside with this structure is that you usually don’t have a ton of time for small groups so it may not accomplish the community goal of small groups. Also, students are only discussing what they heard instead of actually digging into Scripture.
There are a ton of other ways you can structure small groups in your student ministry, but these are three I have seen that are effective. How are small groups structured in your student ministry?