Husband. Dad to 5. Student Ministry Pastor. Follower of Jesus. Yatta yatta.


Like many youth groups around the country, we’re launching our small groups this fall.  We also have made some changes based on learnings from the flow of groups last year.  As a result, we have decided that the first 10 weeks will be largely-if not almost exclusively- focused on getting to know our students.  Then in January, after the Christmas break, we’ll then build on those relationships and begin a process to dive more fully into the Scriptures together each week in a more “traditional Bible Study”.

But what this means in the short term is that from late September through Christmas, we’ll be spending a lot of time (like an hour or so) pouring into the life of just one student in each small group each night.  Not like a hot seat where a small group grills one member with questions, but more like a moment where we say, “We really want to get to know you more… but for reals.  So tell us all about yourself.”

If the small group you lead is made up of outgoing bubbly teenage girls, well that might be all you need.  You’ll be lucky if you get them to stop talking 60 minutes later with that one intro.

But if you’re leading freshman guys, it’s gonna take some more work.

So in order to help, we put together a packet of stuff to keep a conversation going with a student.  Here’s 6 tips we’re using to train our leaders.

START YOUR SMALL GROUP EACH WEEK WITH A BUCKET TESTIMONY.  Pick an item (bucket, purse, backpack, suitcase, basket, etc) and have a different person each week come with 10 items inside.   As they pull each item out, they tell you why they put it in there and what it means to them.  As leaders, you do this first, choosing a wide range of items from serious to funny and set the tone.  Then have someone volunteer or choose a student who can do this next week.  Don’t forget to call and remind them in the days leading up to your next meeting so they don’t forget.

EMBRACE TANGENTS:  If they tell you their favorite food is their grandma’s French toast, ask them to tell you more about their Grandma.  Take the bait and run with whatever other material they give you.

ASK OPEN ENDED QUESTIONS:  Avoid questions that can be answered with yes/no.  Try why, how, and when questions instead of “Do you like _________”  kind of questions.  Try things like:

  • “How did that make you feel?”
  • “Why do you like that?”
  • etc..

DON’T GIVE UP:  It takes about 6 questions before they even think you really care.  Here’s a set of common questions that are essentially intro questions whenever you meet a student in our ministry.  Keep going when these questions are done:

  • Hey, How are you?  
  • What’s your name?
  • What school do you go to?
  • How did you hear about our youth group?  
  • What do you like to do in your free time? 

PLAY DEVIL’S ADVOCATE:  Don’t do this with sarcasm, but feel free to push at a student’s answers to get them to talk more.   If they say “God is so good”, you could say “How do you know God is good? Would you say that to a friend whose mom was diagnosed with cancer? ”   Or if they say, “I think sex before marriage is wrong.”  You could say, “Ok.  So do you think people should get married just to have sex?”  etc…  A great time to do this is when a student says something that appears to have unanimous agreement in your group but you also know the rest of the world outside this group will not necessarily agree.

GIVE SPACE:  Let your question sit before you follow up with another question.  Sometimes rapid firing a question is fun.  Other times, it just shuts them down.  Embrace the silence and give them some time to think about their answer.  If you do break the silence, try clarifying your question before abandoning it or thinking they are not going to answer.

Additionally, we also gave our leaders a couple of sheets with tons of other ideas to ask about and resources to keep the conversation going. Some more of them will be added soon to my Small Group Administrative Tools on Download Youth Ministry in an update shortly.  You might want to pick them up, and a bunch more stuff you might find helpful in small groups if you’re launching this fall and want some more ideas or tools.

Praying for great conversations and deep relationships in my ministry and yours.

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