Is there anything more relational yet difficult than a small group? Maybe for some of you, your small group is a close knit group, or maybe you’re like most small groups and it feels like you’re pulling teeth to get students to talk. Let’s face it, small groups can be awkward sometimes.

So it’s no secret that small groups can be awkward at times. Maybe your group looks like this: So what did you think of Pastor Matt’s message tonight? *blank stares* Let me put you at ease though, because I’ve talked with youth workers across the nation, and that’s how small groups look like for most of them. It’s normal for teenagers to try and stay in their own corner and not invest. Why? Because students are not used to authentic community.

Community is a group of people that are willing to get into the lives other people. The goal of small groups should always be about building community. Your job as small group leaders is not to reteach the message, and you shouldn’t feel that burden. Your goal for your small group should be to get every student talking in an effort to strengthen your relationship with your few. So how do we do that? Well I want to give you three concepts to remember that will help you build stronger communities and closer small groups.

It Takes Small Steps to Build Community
It takes time to build authentic community. I want you to think of your time with your small group like building a house one brick at a time. Every week you get around 20min to an hour with your group, so it doesn’t feel like you get a whole lot of time to build relationships. You’ll be tempted to judge the progress by looking at the one brick you built the house with.

But I want to challenge you to look at it with the past and future in mind. Look how far you’ve taken your group in the past year. See the rows of bricks that you’ve laid down, and that one brick will turn into a wall. Look at all the opportunities in the future you get to have with your group and you can see the potential for what you get to build with them.

This is so important because you can focus on that one Sunday or Wednesday you spent with your group, and you can start feeling like you’re not making a difference. Believe me! I’ve been there. But you need to remind yourself that authentic community takes time, you need to look at where you’ve taken your group and the potential relationships you get to build. Learn to gain this perspective, and it will make a better leader out of you, and it will help you battle those frustrating moments.

Invest to Get Them Invested
Have you ever been frustrated wishing your group would be more invested in the group? Maybe you asked a question and the whole group collectively stared at their feet and gave no response. If you want your group to be invested in small group, you have to make the first move in investing in their lives. I’m not talking about using that small amount of time you get with the whole group, I mean finding time outside of group.

Maybe its spending time with your group in the down time before service starts or playing a game with them after small group. How you spend that time is crucial to leading your small group toward community. Most adults will clump together and talk to other adults in the down time. Don’t do that. Hang out with your students. It might not be the whole group, but find some of your group and get involved with what they’re doing.

You can even take this further by hanging out with your group outside of church. If one of your student’s has a game or concert coming up, invite the whole group to go with you and support them. Or plan your own event, with your leader’s permission. Maybe it’s your group serving together or doing something fun like paintball or painting mugs at a local pottery place. This is what community is supposed to look like, doing life together outside of a church program. But remember, if you want to get your group invested, you have to make the first move. Your students will invest half of what you’re investing. If you aren’t investing in them outside of your small group time, don’t be surprised if they aren’t willing to either.

Community is built one brick at a time, so when you find more opportunities to get in their lives, you can increase those bricks by 2 or 3.

Community Takes Consistency
The last concept I want to give you is the power of consistency. To a teenager, consistency means everything. When you show up in their lives every week, it means the world to them. The more consistent you are with showing up in their life; the more powerful your influence becomes.

I understand that life gets hectic and there will be times where you don’t want to show up for your group. But show up. These students have a ton of people that check in and check out of their lives. A great small group leader is a leader that shows up every week. You can’t expect your group to grow relationally if you aren’t there consistently.

For a teenager, consistency equals safety. When an adult can care for them and be consistent with that care, then that teenager will be more likely to open up and be vulnerable. If you’re a leader that’s been showing up every other week, I would encourage you to show up more. It may not seem like it, but you presence is missed in these student’s lives, and the group suffers when you’re not there.

Consistency goes beyond just showing up. How are you being consistent in other areas? Are you consistently hanging out with your group in the down time? Are you consistently checking up on them throughout the week? The more consistent you are, the more buy-in you’ll get from your group.

GUEST POST by Sam Petterson: youth pastor and DYM Author of some incredible youth ministry resources here on the site.