This year in my youth ministry, I wanted to try utilizing student-led small groups.
Notice the operative word there: TRY.
In theory, I believe that student-led small groups are a good idea.
Yet, in reality, I feared they would prove disastrous.
Leaders might not take preparing for them seriously.
They could also foster harmful social dynamics between teens.
Knowing this, I wanted to make it clear that a willingness to try student-led small groups in no way meant a permanent attachment to them.
The key to this has been intentionally talking about our foray into student-led small groups as an experiment.
You see, despite how resistant to long-term change people are, they are, I’ve found, generally willing to experiment with something for a limited time period.
- Experiments are temporary. Most people figure they can handle something – even something they hate – if it’s only for a limited duration. In the case of our student-led small groups, my student leaders and I agreed to a four-week experiment, after which, we’ll evaluate before deciding whether or not to continue using student-led small groups in the future. Four-weeks – or the length of one entire series – gives us enough time to “test” the effectiveness of these student-led small groups. It also makes it a manageable time commitment for those now leading small groups.
- Experiments are about improvement. You don’t experiment with something that’s not broken. Publicly talking about experimenting with something communicates a willingness to make things better. That, in turn, communicates care. In our case, our desire to experiment with student-led small groups came from rapid growth in our youth ministry. That growth led to small groups so large that teens were no longer feeling known and cared for in them. Our willingness to experiment with small groups has communicated our commitment to them, and our desire to ensure that in their small group, every teen is not only a consumer, but a contributor whose voice matters deeply.
- Experiments invite participation from others. As people get involved in an experiment – as leaders, participants, or evaluators – they begin to realize that the experiment’s success or failure depends on them. This, in turn, gives them increased ownership. In the case of our student-led small groups, we’ve seen increased ownership in both those leading the small groups and those participating in the student-led ones. Those who are leading the discussions “own” them by faithfully praying and studying Scripture in preparation for them. Those participating in student-led small groups are more attentive than those in adult-led small groups. They feel far more like their voice matters in a conversation between peers than in one with an adult.
Our four-week student-led small group experiment ends tonight.
I don’t yet know whether or not we’ll continue using these in the future. After all, we have not yet assessed the success of our experiment.
What I do know is this: People have responded incredibly well to this four-week experiment.
So much so that I’m confident more experiments await us in the future… Some of which will certainly usher in lasting change.