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Five Strategies to Activate Small Groups in Your Youth Ministry

by Austin Maxheimer


Are small groups part of your student ministry? Are they working? The traditional small group model may be the last sacred cow of today’s church.

Statistically, we know that young people are now the largest, most irreligious generation ever on the rise. Religious ‘Nones’—those claiming no religious affiliation—are higher than ever before, and the trend is only growing. Kids graduating high school are leaving churches at unprecedented rates. They look at the church and ask:  “Is this it?”

Here are five strategic moves you can take to activate the potential of the small groups in your youth ministry:

1. Form Groups

Your students, especially as they move from middle school to high school to college, are going to become more and more resistant to church programming. There is something in the next gen that is even more anti-institutional than normal. Create decentralized, relationally-based experiences where they can discover Jesus…in other words, launch groups and get students in them.

2. Develop ‘Made for This’ Mentality

At One Life Church, Evansville, IN, we use ‘Made for This’ as shorthand for how God has uniquely created us to build up his Church and equipped us for mission. Every person has a ‘Made for This’ mindset. That includes students! They don’t want to do what you want them to do, they want to do what they want to do. Can you blame them? Find out their passions, what wrecks them, what energizes them—then shape your small group experiences to reflect these needs.

3. Equip for Mission

I like the word ‘equip’ because it means to furnish or provide whatever is needed for use in any undertaking. What we equip our students for is the mission of God. What an awesome responsibility, with limitless potential for excitement! Students need to know the Big Story of Scripture, how to communicate the Gospel, and how to be an incarnational community empowered by the Spirit. But the key is that they’re learning it to actually use it instead of being passive recipients of seemingly empty content.

4. Cast Vision

Millennials want to change the world. What’s more, they believe they can. They have an entrepreneurial spirit with a global vision. Innovation is their calling card. While they may be anti-institutional, they want to be a part of a movement. Good news for us: that’s precisely what the Church is—God’s Kingdom Movement.  Cast a big vision for your students and then let them be players in a movement. That is something they won’t soon abandon.

5. Promote Gospel Incarnation

Some studies are claiming as high as 60% of unchurched people will not come to a church building. Some say that number is higher. Millennials are creating micro-communities around anything and everything, from craft beer to bicycling. The Church no longer has the market cornered when it comes to meaningful community. Yet we know that we hold the keys to the ultimate community, one that provides ultimate meaning, purpose, sacrifice and love. These Gospel-centered communities are the churches greatest resource. As we move them from the couch to the community, we can help people experience Jesus where they are. Ministry to youth can happen in our schools, skate parks, parties…anywhere people are.

Let’s embrace the challenge to transform small groups into authentic, missional communities. Because when people experience living under the mission of God, they will never have to ask, “Is this it?”

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