Spiritual Growth Agendas, Topical Curriculum

Who Do You Surround Yourself With?

Main Point: Who you surround yourself with matters a great deal.

Tell a personal story of when you surrounded yourself with people that brought you down, instead of lifting you up. Use the following verse:

    Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NLT)
    Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.
(You may need to customize the small group questions a little for your opening story.)

Here's One Example – Jonathan’s Personal Opening Story:

    On December 9th I got up at 3:30 a.m., stretched, ate a Power Bar, and pinned 5 little “energy gel” packets to my running shorts. At 4:10 a.m. I entered the lobby of my hotel in Honolulu with about 60 other runners from my team and we started to walk toward the starting line.

    I must admit I've never walked down the dark misty streets of Honolulu at 4:30 in the morning. And I wasn't alone. It was there that I met over 20,000 others stretching, running in place and trying to protect themselves from the light rain coming down. I placed myself next to the sign marked “4 hour finishers” and waited … You see- I had a goal. I wanted to run this marathon in 4 hours and 15 minutes. I knew that to do that, I needed to average about a 9 and a half minute pace throughout the race.

    Fireworks erupted at 5:00 a.m. and the crowd started to move. It wasn't until 5:05 that I even crossed the starting line. I was surrounded by people all trying to find their pace. I had no concept of what pace I was at. I assumed it was good … until … I hit the 2 mile mark and saw the time. It had been 21½ minutes; I was 3 and a half minutes behind.


    I was mad! These people all around me were a bunch of liars! They lined up at the 4 hour finish section… but were running at a pace that would have them finishing in over 5 hours.

    It's funny how when all the people around you are all doing the same thing you tell yourself that you must be doing alright-even if you aren't. I had gone with the flow and consequently strayed from the time that I had disciplined myself to keep for months. It's amazing how much we sometimes gage our success by the people around us … mistakenly so.

    That’s when I learned my first lesson: BE CAREFUL WHO YOU CHOOSE TO SURROUND YOURSELF WITH.

    I needed to make up for lost time. I picked up my pace to sub-nine-minute miles, passing people right and left. At the five mile mark we went through the center of Honolulu. People stood on both sides of the street cheering. Groups supporting many of the racers held signs, blew horns and shouted cries of praise. During that stretch I found myself soaring on the encouragement from others.

    It's amazing what encouragement from others can do. I beat my time by over a minute during that mile stretch.

    That’s when I learned my second lesson. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH ENCOURAGERS.

    So many times in my life … I've tried to do it alone. We're not alone. God often uses others to be an encouragement. I couldn't help but to think of the following:

      Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV)
      Two are better than one,
      because they have a good return for their work:
      [10] If one falls down,
      his friend can help him up.
      But pity the man who falls
      and has no one to help him up!
      [11] Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
      [12] Though one may be overpowered,
      two can defend themselves.
      A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

    By mile 17 the excitement of the race started to fade as my legs ached. 20 miles. 21 miles. How I wished I could stop. And I could. After all, we had a ton of folks in our group that were walking and running. Why not just stop and walk? Walking is not so bad … is it?

    Around mile 23 I started the great uphill at Diamond Head. What a stupid place to put a hill. Everything in my body said quit. My mind fought, “Press on …press on!” I thought of the people on my team. I thought of the people at home that were waiting eagerly to find out if I hit my goal. I had hundreds of people that knew that I was trying to run this race in 4 hours and 15 minutes. If I quit… they would know!

    I finally told myself, “Jonathan …do you want to let these people down? Do you want to run another one of these things? NO WAY! Okay, then don't stop … If you stop … you have to run another one!” I kept going.

    As I neared the finish line the streets were lined with screaming people, encouraging me to move on.

    My weary 31-year-old body crossed the finish line, making a time of 4:11:26, running the whole way. My goal was accomplished, thanks to the encouragement of others.

Divide into Small Groups:
Let’s go ahead and split up into our discussion groups, and then afterward we’ll come back together for a final word.

CLICK HERE for a quick training article on how to maximize your small groups using our small group format—a great resource to equip your small group leaders.

Discussion Questions:

  1. AROUND THE CIRCLE: Let’s go around the circle and share our name, what school we go to… and if there was going to be a movie of your life, what actor would you want to play “YOU”? I’ll go first!
  2. AROUND THE CIRCLE: Name one of your best memories hanging out with a friend.
  3. AROUND THE CIRCLE: Name a bad memory (or scary memory) where you were alone, and you wish you weren’t.
  4. ASK A FEW: Let’s just say that you were told today that you were moving across town and you had to go to a brand new school. How would that make you feel? (Scared) Why? (Because I wouldn’t know anyone)
  5. ASK THE SAME FEW: But let’s say that then you find out that one of your best friends is also moving there, and they’ll be starting the new school with you. Is the situation better now? Why?
  6. Read the following verse from the Bible:

      Eccles. 4:9-12 (NLT)
      Two people can accomplish more than twice as much as one; they get a better return for their labor. [10] If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble. . . . A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

  7. ASK SOMEONE: According to this verse, what is better, one person, or two?
  8. ASK SOMEONE: According to this verse, what were the examples that he gave of why “Two is better than one!”… name one. (1. fall, help up 2. two can fight back-to-back and conquer 3. braided cord

      ASK SOMEONE ELSE: Name another one.

      ASK SOMEONE ELSE: Anyone remember the other example?

  9. ASK A FEW: So do you agree? Is two better than one?
  10. ASK A FEW: In Teen People Magazine, actor Will Smith said the following:

      “The best thing that anybody ever said to me is that you're only as good as the people you associate with. Look at the five friends that you spend the most time with——that's who you are.” – actor/rapper Will Smith, Teen People, August 2004, p. 102.

    Do you agree or disagree, and why?
  11. ASK A FEW: Jonathan talked about how in his race, he was surrounded by people that he thought were okay, but it turned out they really steered him away from his goal. The interesting part about that story was, HE DIDN’T EVEN REALIZE IT. He didn’t know that they were keeping him from his goal. Can that happen to us- in other words, can we sometimes surround ourselves with people that might seem okay at first, but really they aren’t good influences on us? Give an example.
  12. ASK A FEW: How can we keep this from happening- how can we be careful to not surround ourselves with people that might influence us negatively?
  13. ASK A FEW: How can we choose to surround ourselves with people that influence us positively?
  14. ASK A FEW: Where are some places that we can surround ourselves with these people? (church, small groups)

    LEADER COMMENTS: Wednesday nights at our youth group are a great place for this. These small groups are one great way we can surround ourselves with people that “build us up,” not “tear us down.”

  15. AROUND THE CIRCLE: Let’s go around the circle and share one thing we can do to avoid being influenced by those who might keep us from making good decisions. I’ll go first!
  16. AROUND THE CIRCLE: Let’s go around the circle and share one thing that we might want to commit to that will help us plug into church, small groups or a place where we can be encouraged to make good decisions. I’ll go first!

Sometimes we are like chameleons. We don’t want to stick out, so we blend in with our surroundings. This might be fine if we’re a small creature trying to avoid being eaten… but it’s not necessarily a good thing when we surround ourselves with bad influences.

Tonight we learned a simple fact: we need to be careful who we surround ourselves with. Some of us have committed to avoiding some influences that have been dragging us down. And some of us have committed to getting plugged in here or plugged into our Bible studies more. We want to pray for you now as you have made this commitment.

Close in Prayer


Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.


  1. Sarah
    July 15, 2018 at 12:00 am

    One of my favorite verses!

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