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THE DNA OF HEALTHY SMALL GROUPS
The 5 Necessities of Life-Transforming Small Groups

Dear Youth Pastor,

We're glad that you're serious about becoming a better youth leader, and helping your volunteers become better, as well. Heck, that's why The Source for Youth Ministry exists... Helping Youth Workers Reach Kids!

This collection of tools is everything you need to lead your team through an exciting 1-2 hour training seminar on "building and managing healthy small groups." This training resource can be used by youth workers who want to start small groups, or by youth workers who want to revitalize their existing small groups.

Here's what you'll find:
  1. The TRAINING SCRIPT. This is the document you are reading now, and it includes the actual training script you should use while teaching the seminar and a group activity to do with your team at the beginning of the seminar.

    The portions of red text/font are notes for YOU, the PRESENTER.

    Also, this training script follows a Powerpoint presentation, perfectly. During the training script, you will see blue text/font (typically it will read "NEXT SLIDE"). There will also be a graphic of the NEXT SLIDE pictured, as well. This is just a signal for you to advance the Powerpoint so that what you are "teaching" is also what you are "showing."

    Got it? Good!

  2. The PowerPoint. This is a professional slideshow presentation (that mirrors the script from start to finish) that you can use in conjunction with the training script below. Although using the Powerpoint is "optional," it will allow you to "show" your group the major points outlined in this training script.

    CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE POWERPOINT

  3. The BUILD A SMALL GROUP ACTIVIY. This is a fun activity to start your seminar off with. The rules for this activity, as well as how to do it can be found in the NOTES TO PRESENTER section in the script. However, you will need to print off copies of the "List of Names" document and the BUILD A SMALL GROUP fill-in-the-blank sheets. Make sure you have one copy of each for every team of 2-3 participants you have. (For example, if you have 15 participants in your seminar, you will need at least 5 copies of each.)

    CLICK HERE to print off the "List of Names" document and CLICK HERE to print off the BUILD A SMALL GROUP fill-in-the-blanks sheet.

Like we said, this is EVERYTHING you need to lead your very own training seminar! We even give you the order you can present this in for maximum effect! We want to provide you with these tools for a couple of reasons. First, this is life-changing information. If your team can offer life-changing small groups to your teenagers, the Kingdom is blessed!

Secondly, we want to provide YOU with a professional seminar that YOU can lead for YOUR group, making YOU look like the hero. Now, we aren't trying to put you on an ego trip, we just want to offer you the tools that will allow your team to have even greater confidence in you so you can lead them to the edge of their effectiveness and calling in youth ministry. Deal?

To begin your seminar, start your PowerPoint and use the training script below.

THE TRAINING SCRIPT- (What You Say!)

(NOTE TO PRESENTER: START HERE)

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We are looking for a way to offer our students...

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A place where they feel like they "belong"

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A great way to get to know their peers better

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A way to build strong relationships with adult leaders

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A stepping-stone to accountability and mentoring relationships

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An environment in which they are genuinely "heard"

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An arena in which they can grow spiritually

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A place where they are truly "missed" if they are missing

Small groups of this quality is what we're talking about today!

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But, small groups don't just happen. It's not like we can just pick students out of our crowd and say, "You go here, and you go there...and like it!" Maybe a fun little activity with show you what I mean.

(NOTE TO PRESENTER: TIME FOR ACTIVITY)
When it comes time for this activity, put all of the participants into teams of 2-3 people each. Do your best to make sure all teams are equal in number. After everyone has a partner, or has been assigned to a team, hand out one copy of the "List of Names" to each group/team and also one copy of the BUILD A SMALL GROUP fill-in-the-blank sheets.

Then choose 6 of the "Possible Small Groups" (from below), and call them out one at a time, giving teams/groups about 1 minute to choose the members they think best fits that particular small group. You will also act as "judge," choosing which team came up with the "best" small group members. That group/team wins a point. Most points win.

Ok, guys, here's how this works. You have two sheets in front of you; one is a list of names of famous people, and the other is a sheet that has blanks all over it. I'm going to call off the description of a small group, and then give you 1 minute to choose 4 members and 1 leader for the small group. For example, I might say, "The small group that has the whitest teeth." You then pick 4 members for that small group, and a leader that you think would best lead them.

Your small group MUST have 4 members, and 1 leader in it! There are no restrictions on who can be in a small group. The entire group can be from the same column, or you can mix and match from across the board.

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Ready? Here we go.

Possible Small Groups

  1. The small group that's most likely to end in a fist fight.
  2. The small group that will have the most drama.
  3. The small group that will be the loudest.
  4. The ALL GUY small group that's most in touch with their feminine side. (members must be male)
  5. The small group that would do the worst job at evangelizing the lost.
  6. The small group that would best understand the Book of Revelation.
  7. The small group that would most resemble group therapy.
  8. The small group that would have its own TV show after three weeks.
  9. The small group that would be the most uncomfortable to attend.
  10. The small group that Dr. Phil would most often need to visit.
  11. The small group that you would like to attend the most.
  12. The small group that could also double as a street gang.
  13. The small group that would be plagued with all sorts of corruption and/or scams.
  14. The small group that would have the most "hook ups."
  15. The small group that would know the least about the Bible.
  16. The small group that would be the most random.

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Aren't you glad that's NOT how we pick small groups?!

You know, some small groups are for accountability, and some are for discipleship. Some small groups may be held at the church, while others meet in homes...or Starbucks. No matter their purpose or location, every healthy small group has five critical necessities that impact teenagers and lead to total life transformation. In our training session today, we will outline those five necessities that help our students have relevant discussions about spiritual issues while also developing meaningful relationships with peers and adults.

Necessities for Healthy Small Groups

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There have been lots of great books written on the topic of small groups. Instead of telling you to read all of them, we're going to cover the ideas that are the "best of the best." Without these basics, we're doomed from the start. Since all of them are elemental, here they are, in no particular order.

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NECESSITY #1: Leaders who genuinely listen.
Sound simple? Basic? Let me warn you: it's often the most-neglected necessity in small group ministry! Listening is so important to healthy small groups, that they can't even happen without it.

Think about a kid's life for a moment. He goes to school where his teachers are talking/lecturing for 6-7 hours. He leaves school and goes to practice or work, where a coach or a boss continues to tell him what to do. Then, later that night, he goes to small group. If we spend most of the time talking, when does he get a chance to be heard?

I'm not saying that "talking" is a bad thing. His teachers must do it for him to learn, and his coach must also do it for him to grow. Likewise, we must spend "some" time talking, too. But we should spend much more time listening than talking.

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Here's a rule of thumb that will help us find the proper balance. In our small group time, we should spend 80% of our time listening to the students, and only 20% of the time talking.

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Remember the old adage that says, "We have two ears and one mouth; use them proportionately."

You know you're talking too much when you commit these "talking sins."

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Interrupt them and assume you already understand what they were going to say.

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Finish their sentences for them.

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Give long examples from your own life that illustrate your point.

Further, our listening needs to be "empathetic listening." Empathetic listening is an active kind of listening where you repeat back what you heard so you know you understand what was said, but in such a way as to make the person who spoke "feel heard."

Of course we want our students to "be" heard, but more importantly, we want them to "feel" heard. If we try to understand the feelings and emotions behind their words, they will definitely notice our efforts, and feel as though what they have to say truly matters. Empathetic listening is NOT the same as sympathetic listening.

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Sympathetic listening means we feel FOR the student.

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Empathetic listening means we feel AS the student. Here are a couple of examples of empathetic listening:

STUDENT: "I hate it because I don't think my family gets me."
LEADER: "It sounds as though you get upset during those times of confusion. What makes you think that your family doesn't understand you?

STUDENT: "Today was terrible! I found out that I made an "F" in Chemistry 1 for the semester."
LEADER: "You seem pretty bummed over the grade. What can you do about it?"

Notice that the response had TWO parts: a restating of the student's words PLUS a clarifying question.

(NOTE TO PRESENTER: TAKE TIME TO GO THROUGH THESE QUESTIONS/EXAMPLES ONE AT A TIME)
FEEDBACK: Let's practice this a little bit. I will say something that students may say in a small group setting, and I want you to give me an empathetic response.

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"I'm not sure I can go this weekend. My mom just got a call from Grandpa saying he's in the hospital."

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"I didn't make the team, but my best friend did."

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"I'm not sure that God can forgive me of all that I've done wrong."

Don't confuse empathetic listening with pop psychology. We're doing much more than asking, "How does that make you feel?" and when they answer, we ask, "And how does that make you feel?" According to Stephen Covey, empathetic listening is "listening from the heart." When we do it, our students will recognize it and appreciate it.

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NECESSITY #2: Leaders who understand how to start light and go deeper.
Imagine you're 15, the "new kid," and don't know anybody in the room. A youth leader looks you dead in the eye and says, "I need you to open our group in prayer, and then tell us the biggest sexual temptation you faced this past week." You would probably run out of the room screaming!

Starting light and going deeper means we take our time getting to deeper issues. I'm not saying we shouldn't talk about deeper issues, but we need to build up to it. Our first question should never be, "Kyle, can you describe the strengths and weaknesses of the cosmological argument for the existence of God?"

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No matter how badly we want to "go deep" with our students – which is a good thing – we've got to remember to "start light." We don't want to scare everyone away with our first question. In fact, we should always come up with a fun first question that provokes kids to want to answer.

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A great way to jumpstart the conversation in a small group is to ask everyone to share their name, and something simple. For instance:

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"Your dream vacation."
"Your favorite restaurant."
"What you want for your next birthday."
"Your favorite super hero, and why."
"The car you would pick if I told you I was a billionaire and would buy you what you wanted."

You're probably already thinking, "The answers to these questions aren't important." You're partially right; these questions aren't exactly life-changing. But, if we take the time to let everyone answer, we have accomplished two incredibly important goals.

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First, we've given everyone a chance to speak. This pays big dividends later on when we want students to talk about something much more important.

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Secondly, we've asked them a question that they CAN'T get wrong. (All of those example questions are completely opinion-based.) Knowing they can't mess up the first question is a huge confidence booster!

Let's say the topic of the small group was "what it takes to be a good friend." Here's a potential order of questions we might use to get to our point:

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1. As we get started, everyone take a minute to share your name and your favorite place to go with friends.
2. Can you share a quick story about a good memory you had with a friend?

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3. What are the qualities you admire in your friends?
4. Which of these qualities do you need to work on to be a better friend?

Now, let's read John 15:12-17 to learn about the ultimate Friend.

This example shows a progression. Picture what might happen if you started off with question #4. You may have trouble getting students to open up. By starting light, we make it easy and comfortable for students to share. Then, when we're ready to go deeper, we can do so because we've developed trust and we've also created a safe atmosphere in which students can share their hearts.

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(NOTE TO PRESENTER: TAKE TIME TO LET YOUR GROUP ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTION)
FEEDBACK: Let's say the topic of our small group was "salvation." What would be some great questions to "start light" with?

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NECESSITY #3: A clear purpose.
"Cause it is Wednesday night."
"To be with my Christian friends."
"To study the Bible."
"For accountability."
"Cause Rachel is hot, and she goes to it!"

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Those may be some of the answers we get if we ask the question to our students, "Why do you go to a small group?" (Clearly, some are better than others.) But a better question to ask...of ourselves...is, "Why have small groups in the first place?"

Our small groups MUST consistently match the purpose and meet the need for which they were designed. If we only have lost kids in our small groups, it will do little good to dive into the original Hebrew text of Ecclesiastes. Conversely, if we have a small group that's filled with believers, we need to move beyond the basics, and onto deeper issues that affect us from day to day.

The purpose of the small group should be to meet a specific need, whatever it may be. Bottom line: Our NEED(S) will dictate the KIND(S) of small groups we will have.

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Here are a couple examples of what I mean.

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If we think our kids need an in-depth Bible study, then we might focus on a verse-by-verse study in our small groups. (This would be a discipleship small group.)

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If we see our kids need help dealing with a particular temptation, we might build a small group that's focused on it. (This might be an accountability small group.)

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If we just want to provide students with a way to "digest" the spiritual material they are being taught each week at youth group, then we might break into small groups following the leaders' main talk. (This would be a discussion group.)

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If we hear that our kids are continually losing their lunch money at school, we might offer a small group called, "Jesus, Kung Fu, and You." (I have no idea what kind of small group this would be... but it would be a lot of fun!)

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(NOTE TO PRESENTER: TAKE TIME TO LET YOUR GROUP ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTION)
FEEDBACK: What do you perceive the current needs of our teenagers to be, and how do you suppose we meet them?

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NECESSITY #4: Clearly defined boundaries, rules, and expectations.
In every part of life, we have boundaries...on sports fields, on roads, in business, and with people. Though teens may think they'd like an "anything goes" kind of life, we know that it would quickly break down.

The same is true for small groups!

I'm not suggesting that we make students chisel the 10 Commandments into stone tablets (that they must wear around their necks), but we do need to voice our expectations UP FRONT. That way, the students are made aware of what the "thou shall not's" are from the start. Whatever you do, protect the small group as a time to express ourselves and hear from each other. One rule will go a long way towards helping us do that: be respectful.

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This covers a multitude of sins, and we are well on our way if we get them to agree to this ONE RULE. You can simply say, "This is your time. I want to be able to hear from you without anyone else interrupting. So we have one simple rule: BE RESPECTFUL. That's it; nothing else. In this group we respect each other by not interrupting, not talking while someone else is talking, and respecting other peoples' opinions. Remember, respect doesn't end in this group time. It goes outside this group, as well. We don't go telling others what someone shared inside this group. Does everyone agree with this one rule?" (If you look around the group, they will generally give a nod of their head in consent.)

If kids interrupt or start joking out of turn, don't hesitate to stop the group for a second and say something like, "Kierra, you agreed with the one rule we have for this group, didn't you?" When she recognizes her mistake, refrain from yelling, "SO SHUT YOUR PIE HOLE!" Simply proceed with whoever's turn it was. "As you were saying, Christy?"

But rules and expectations aren't just limited to a list of "don'ts." Sometimes, the expectations include the students actually DOING something. For instance, if the small group requires students to bring their Bibles, that should become an expectation. Further, if the small group uses a journal of some sort that will need to be discussed at each gathering, all of the students should be made aware of that responsibility so they can come prepared.

By laying out the rules, boundaries, and expectations, the students in our small groups can get the greatest benefit from the experience.

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(NOTE TO PRESENTER: TAKE TIME TO LET YOUR GROUP ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTION)
FEEDBACK: What are the non-negotiable rules for our small groups going to be?

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NECESSITY #5: Leaders who will ALWAYS be prepared...from start to finish.
On more than one occasion, I've overheard leaders ask other adults for a Bible passage reference three minutes before they are to lead a small group. I wince at the "quality" of study those kids are in for with those kinds of leaders.

It's easy to spot a leader who isn't fully prepared to lead the small group.
  • He's still trying to hook up the DVD player to the TV as students walk into the room.
  • She's writing down the last discussion question while Billy opens in prayer.
  • 5 minutes past start time, he's still frantically looking for enough pens and paper for everybody in the group.
It's fairly audacious to think that we can just walk into our small groups filled with kids who are facing peer pressure, intense temptation, and broken families... and wing it! Trust me, they notice. The devil puts a lot of thought and planning into how he will ensnare our students each and every day. Shouldn't we spend the necessary time to actually think about and literally plan ways to help them?

Let's face it: we can't pull off a good enough small group by picking Bible verses at the red lights on the way to youth group. Leaders should be familiar enough with their lesson plan or discussion questions that they can lead the group without being glued to their notes.

There are many important points to consider as we prepare to lead a small group. Here are a few of them:

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If you're using it, make sure all of your technology is in operating condition BEFORE the group meets.

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Anticipate some of the potential questions that students may bring up in the conversation, so you can offer your best answer, and not have to "shoot from the hip."

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Have your small group discussion completely finished BEFORE the meeting (from the "opening" to the "wrap up") and rehearse it at least once. The "wrap up" time focuses our students on "how my life will be different from now on." It not only surmises the conversation, but also challenges students to implement what they've learned. Some great ways to wrap up a small group include:

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Asking, "What can you do this week to be a better friend?" (if friendship was the topic).

Playing the "what if" game with students. Ask, "What if we DO what God says with our friends? and "What if we DON'T do what God says with our friends?"

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Giving them an assignment to complete before the next small group. If the topic was friendship, then you might instruct them to approach a friend who needs to be forgiven for some transgression.

Sure, we want the Holy Spirit to be present with us as we teach, but He wants to be present with us as we prepare, too! It's not "cheating" or "unspiritual" to plan what you're going to say ahead of time. As a matter of fact, it may be unspiritual to NOT prepare ahead of time....

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(NOTE TO PRESENTER: TAKE TIME TO LET YOUR GROUP ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTION)
FEEDBACK: How can we make sure we are always prepared when it comes to offering our students our best during small group times?

Conclusion

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We've covered the essentials of a healthy small group ministry today. One thing's for sure: healthy small groups don't just happen; they must be carefully planned, and painstakingly protected.

(NOTE TO PRESENTER: SHARE THESE TWO FREE RESOURCES WITH YOUR GROUP)
Don't forget: if you're looking for great resources to share during small group time, The Source for Youth Ministry has a ton of high quality, totally FREE resources you can use. Plus, The Source for Youth Ministry also has a podcast on the subject of small groups. It's available as a free download from iTunes (Podcast #13 - East Coast, West Coast).

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If we include these necessities in our small groups, we will provide opportunities for students to grow in their faith, and have their lives transformed. Let's close in prayer.

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Close in Prayer.



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