The success of your ministry rises and falls on the quality of your small group leaders.
If you’re like me, that’s an inconvenient truth. It’s inconvenient because I want the success of my ministry to rise and fall on me:
Why should I have to rely on other people?
Honestly, the smaller your ministry is, the longer you can get away with doing everything yourself. The fewer students you have, the more you can handle yourself. But when your ministry begins to grow, it will get bigger than you can handle alone.
From what I’ve seen, a ministry that is centered around a dynamic youth pastor – with good people skills and leadership ability – can grow to around 70 students. That’s the limit. When the number goes over 70, it becomes obvious that you can’t give them what they’re looking for anymore.
What are they looking for?
3 Things Students Are Looking For
1. To be seen.
2. To be heard.
3. To be understood.
No matter how good you are, you can’t provide those things for more than 70 students. If you don’t surround yourself with other people – small group leaders – your ministry won’t grow beyond that. Plus, it’s very difficult for you to maintain the levels of productivity, focus, and energy needed to keep up with that many students week in and week out. You just can’t do it.
After awhile, some will begin to fall through the cracks. Eventually they’ll get bored with your program, yawn at your games, tune out your sermons, stop singing the songs, and stop showing up.
Beyond just the numbers, you also need small leaders involved in your ministry because they’ll be able to connect with certain students in ways you never could, no matter how hard you try.
For instance, a consistent female small group leader will be able to have conversations with female students that a male youth pastor could never (and probably should never) have. Not to mention the athletic student who doesn’t feel a connection with his artistically inclined youth pastor. Or the artistic student who doesn’t feel a connection with her athletically inclined youth pastor. It goes both ways.
Everyone is different, and you need people around you who can establish common ground with students when you can’t.
When you have small group leaders who are invested like that, students tend to stick around. Ironically, even the students who originally came for the program they liked will eventually stick around because of the people they’ve gotten to know.
An emphasis on music, games, preaching, and programs is incomplete without a similar emphasis on finding, developing, and encouraging good small group leaders to care about and invest in the students you’re reaching.
But how do you lead small group leaders?
I want to suggest the following 3 ways…
3 Ways to Lead Your Small Group Leaders
1. Explain Expectations
To have good small group leaders, they have to know what’s expected of them. Here are a few examples:
If you expect them to be prepared for each small group meeting, tell them.
If you want them to contact members of their group on a regular basis, tell them.
If you expect them to attend summer camp, tell them.
If you want them to get their group together for an outing every few months, tell them.
If you expect them to maintain certain lifestyle standards, tell them.
If you want them to partner with parents, tell them.
It’s important for you to lay out the key things you expect of your small group leaders. If you don’t, then there will be a lot of frustration.
Either your leaders will get frustrated with you and leave, or you’ll get frustrated with them and dismiss them. That rotating door won’t help your ministry. Even worse, you won’t dismiss them and you’ll just continue on with small group leaders who aren’t doing what you need them to do.
What do you want your small group leaders to do?
2. Provide Support
To have good small group leaders, you have to support them. The reality is that most of your group leaders probably feel unsupported or undersupported. And just to be clear: giving them their lesson on time every week doesn’t count as support. That should be automatic. If you aren’t doing that, start now.
Beyond that, you be offering your leaders ongoing training opportunities throughout the year. It’s one thing for them to know what you expect them to do, it’s another thing for them to actually know how to do it.
If you want them to organize a small group outing, give them a list of potential places they can go or things they can do.
If you want them to partner with parents, tell them how.
If you want them to contact their students, offer them some ideas for what to say.
Ten years ago, I used monthly volunteer meetings for training. The attendance was spotty, but I did my best to provide ongoing training for the ones who showed up. Now, I rely more on the great training videos from Download Youth Ministry. With a subscription, you get a new volunteer training video every month.
And here’s the best part: Because the videos are digital, you can send your volunteers a link and they can watch it when it’s convenient for them. Gone are the days where they have to go out of their way to attend our meetings in order to be trained. It’s a great thing! Then we usually talk about the videos when we get together for our one-on-one meetings, which I’ll talk about next.
How are you equipping your small group leaders?
3. Offer Encouragement
To have good small group leaders, you have to encourage them. Everyone loves encouragement because everyone wants to know that they’re doing a good job. Without encouragement, an attitude of defeat and negativity takes over and you’ll lose your leaders.
To keep morale high, your leaders need to know that you believe in them and what they’re doing. That’s the main point I try to communicate during our one-on-one meetings.
A one-on-one is a meeting that I have with every small group leader. It’s an opportunity for me to take them to breakfast, lunch, or coffee to talk about what’s going on in their lives and with their group.
Elle Campbell and Brooklyn Lindsey wrote a helpful article for Orange Leaders called, “Conversations with Small Group Leaders” (only available by subscription, as far as I know). In it, they suggest, “Think of your conversation as a two-way discovery: you’re discovering more about their world as an SGL, then (when necessary) helping them discover ways to make their group even healthier.”
They also offer a few questions you can ask:
Are kids on your roster showing up?
Who has stopped coming?
What are some ways you’ve been having fun with your group lately, both inside and outside of small group?
Have you met any parents that you just love? Tell me about them.
Have there been any parents who have caused you to second-guess your commitment as an SGL a little bit? Why?
Is it difficult to balance your role as an SGL with everything else you have going on?
What do you see happening for you and your small group next year, and how can you begin to prepare for it right now?
Your job is to encourage them and point out ways they are doing a good job. You want to communicate confidence in their leadership, and help them see that they’re making a difference. Find something to praise about their leadership.
You vetted them. You’ve trained them. Now is the time to believe in them and encourage them!
How are you encouraging your small group leaders?
If you want good small group leaders, you need to clearly explain the expectations, give them support, and offer encouragement.
The success of your ministry rises and falls on your small group leaders.
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