I love small groups! In fact, the church I serve at also loves small groups so much that they say we are not a church that does small groups; we are a church OF small groups. Small groups are a very important piece of the discipleship ministry in our student ministries department and as we are ready to end our small group season for the summer, I am already brainstorming for next year. In my planning I began to think, what happens when they don’t work? I say this because I have found that for some of our students, especially high school guys, small groups isn’t always something that they are willing to jump into. Of course this is always difficult for me because if I had it my way everyone would be involved in a small group ministry. So, what is the reason for pushback towards small groups? For some they may still not be at a place to make that commitment, or perhaps there is a lack of trust with a smaller community, perhaps they just don’t like small groups or maybe they are just comfortable showing up to our weekly outreach programs and leaving it at that. But here is the problem, if you are like me and the main piece of your discipleship ministry is small groups, then I think we would all be missing out if we just simply left these students in a place where discipleship is not happening because they are not showing up to a small group ministry.

So what can we do in this situation?

Here are a few thoughts:

Create different avenues for discipleship to happen
Don’t just rely on small groups to be the only option for discipleship to happen in your ministry. Create some different ways for students to connect in a discipleship context. Remember, everyone is wired differently. We are currently working on a 3 to 1 mentor/discipleship ministry where every youth worker is a mentor to 3 students. When we run out of team members to assign to students we line them up with mentors in the church. This may not work best in your context but continue to think outside the box to reach those who are missing out on discipleship.

Ask students what is keeping them from joining a small group
In my first two years of youth ministry I worked so hard to best serve students without ever asking them how I could better serve them. Sometimes we need to just sit down for coffee or lunch or go for a walk and ask students what is keeping them from joining. Maybe they are uncomfortable with small groups, but perhaps it’s scheduling, or the lack of transportation. Be sure to understand why a student is not getting more involved if they are at the point you think they should be committing more. Remember, ministry is relational; we cannot just guess and assume we know everything. And, if you’re going to be honest in your asking, allow room for the students to be honest in answering and prepare yourself to hear something you might not want to hear.

When something doesn’t work, no matter how many times God has proven faithful, I’m human and I still often panic rather than bringing the situation to God. If your small group ministry is not going like you hoped, perhaps it’s time to amp up your prayer for guidance in your leadership but also in the hearts of the students. We need to continue to pray for our students and for their hearts toward God.

Continue to over promote
You can say something 7 times to a group of people 7 different ways and many of them will still miss out. Be sure to always over communicate small groups, how to sign up, who the leaders are, where they are held, why they are important. If you really believe small group ministry is important than over communicate that importance.

As I start planning for next year I am hoping that we can find everyone where they are at and provide ways to encourage them to grow closer to Christ. These are just some of my ideas. What are some suggestions or ideas that you have to help with small groups when they are not working as planned? Please share below!

Kevin Klas has been in youth ministry for 10 years. He is currently the director of student ministries at Lake City Community Church in Lakewood, WA.