Youth Groups! Is small beautiful?

seven myths.jpg As I mentioned, I’m running a couple of seminars next week at a training day for volunteer youth leaders. The day is structured around “Seven myths of youth ministry” and I’m looking at Small Groups and linking it in loosely with Myth 2 in the book, “Size isn’t Important!”
I’m definitely not into the numbers game HOWEVER I am convinced that this, “it’s not about the numbers,” approach can (emphasis on can) be an excuse that leads to groups that are defeatist, introspective, exclusive and lacking discipleship. So it’ll be an interesting seminar to lead. I really-really want to encourage volunteer leaders and celebrate the awesome commitment and energy they invest in young people, I do however also want to provoke some useful thinking and reflection.
So how big does a group NEED to be? I reckon this will vary with situation but realistically unless you’ve got a core of at least eight I wonder whether it can grow and develop. (I’m happy to be disagreed with).
I also know that if a group is too big it becomes dysfunctional.
What are the factors that can limit the growth of a group? My current menu of possibilities is along the lines of:
Trying to cover too large an age range
Lack of vision
Fear that we don’t know what we are doing so we only want Churchy young people
Lack of Strategic thinking and Prayer
Client-Provider approach. Youth ministry is done to young people not with them
Leaders who also do loads of other stuff in the Church (even more time poor)
Not stopping to re-evaluate
Leaders pushed into the role without resourcing or training.
If I can be a little bit Martin Luther King about this:
I have a dream where the youth leaders are recognised as ministers in the Church, resourced, supported and encouraged.
I have a dream where the words “holding onto” are never used and where I start to hear “our ministry to the young people in our community!”
I have a dream where ministry to young people is taken to be a whole church ministry
I have a dream that the youth budget would be bigger than the flower budget
I have a dream that the congregations response to seeing a young person wearing a baseball cap in Church would be to say, “Cool cap!” (Ok, now I’m getting silly!)

Captains log supplemental: Does the youth fellowship model just mirror the Church, i.e best at the in-house stuff and emphasising teaching? How do volunteers develop a missional mindset worshipping in a maintenance model?
Your reflections please:

7 Replies to “Youth Groups! Is small beautiful?”

  1. Not sure I understood most of the blog..but I’m sure it says “when 2 or 3 are gathered” – maybe its the translation you’re reading. Issue is of course with leaders – the more leaders, the more daring your group can be, the more young people want to come. Most of the time groups fail or do not function due to the lack of drive in a leadership and then groups fizzle out. But of course, the most important thing is to sow seeds and wait to see if they grow….and that you can do with 2, 20 or 200.

  2. Been thinking a bit about this too – and am hating notions of “critical mass”.
    Better to have 3 youth who “belong” to the church and are really discipled that 25 programme fodder attendees – I think!?
    So for me no number is too small – but might need to connect to the big stuff occaisionally for vision etc.

  3. Healthy sheep reproduce, that’s what my old boss said. Growing numerically isn’t always the most important thing, but it can be a sign that what you are doing is healthy. As for needing 8 young people I disagree! In my last church I started with 3 and we grew to about 20 on a Sunday morning and 50 during the week. These 3 also provided the inspiration for starting an interdenominational youth project which is 150 and still growing.
    Where I am now I started with 2 local young people and have already developped and grown our work to impacting 20 young people. In my opinion you only need one person to start something exciting.
    Hope the seminar goes well.

  4. From a young person’s POV, coming into a group of 3 is really scary – everyone knows everyone else and it’s a little daunting. No matter how un-cliquey the group, it can be inspirational, committed and passionate, and you can have some amazing discussions, but it’s still scary!!!
    But God works no matter whether you have 1 or 100, if you let Him lead you. Admittedly lots of other leaders are necessary too, and that is where the older young people (if that makes any sense) can be discipled to become leaders. All works and all happy 🙂

  5. Thanks for the input so far, hugely appreciated. I think perhaps me throwing in a figure was a little bit unwise however I have seen far more groups of 3 or 4 fizzle out than I have seen flourish (I’m not however doubting for a moment that God is present in that situation). I don’t consider any group too small, what I’m intersted is in groups that are genuinely healthy. Where I’m coming from is challenging a mindset.
    There are situations in which things are either growing or dying? Is this one of them or is small and proud possible? (I don’t know)
    I started a group from 4 and we had to work hard at growth or it would have died, the young people clearly weren’t comfortable in an environment that was that exposed and there was not a genuine peer group (especially if 1 or 2 couldn’t be there that week!)
    Please continue to comment, there is a huge danger in this subject BUT if we are genuinely to disciple young people then I think this debate is important.

  6. Some interesting stuff. Am sure we can all come up with situations that back up all the views expressed and still have more in the pocket to share.
    Big question – if size of the group does not matter, what does? Maybe it is growing in relationship with Christ and being used in the lives of others? This sort of answer then takes numbers out of the equation – even if 2 or 3 do not grow to 20 then it is a successful group. If the group grows to 50, it can still be successful.
    But then this may not be the right question.
    With regards to missional stuff, the best book for me (and more world missional than local) is still Paul Borthwick’s “Youth and Mission”. First published in 1988 but re-done by OM just a few years back.
    Thanks for raising the questions, I look forward to reading other responses.
    Enjoy the seminar

  7. Good discussion! Surely if discipleship is happening in the group, the yps will becoming more mission minded, because our faith is a missionary one. Mordern day Church sometimes falls into the trap of forgetting this and makes ‘discipleship,’ purely about spiritual disciplines or how we respond to moral issues – but it can’t be! You can’t seperate mission out, we should be encouraging to share their faith in every possible way and every possible circumstance – if they get that God given bug, they grow themselves, whether you have 4 or 40. Sorry – Have a bee in my bonet about misson! Hope your tour continues well, blessings, K 🙂

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