Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Healthy Small Group Environment

December 5, 2008

I just wanted to say thank you for making an environment for our students to be known, genuinely loved, and visibly cared for. I value our reaLife Groups more than you probably know. I personally feel that real Life change happens in the context of a smaller group.

Let me unpack my three desires for this environment.

1. KNOWN – It is literally impossible for me to know each and every name of our students but I feel very strongly that someone should. As our group grows (it’s kind of the idea – HA!) it will be imperative that we put leaders into place that will know the names of the students whom are connected to groups. Not that I don’t as if we should know the names of those only attending larger gatherings but we have no excuse not knowing them in a smaller setting.
2. Genuinely LOVED – The love that some of these students get from us might be the only positive thing that they have heard all week. We need to be sensitive to this but also mindful that some come from a very positive environment. I am not calling us to drop a “Love Bomb” on them because can be viewed as inappropriate and too needy on our part to have students respond to us. We can show students we love them in appropriate and very practical ways but being loved is tantamount to the effectiveness of our ministry to them and to the family as a whole.
3. Visibly CARED FOR – It is not enough to have an environment where we know and love kids because it is way too easy for us to say we love kids without visibly showing them that we care. While we want to show the families that we are partners with them in the spiritual development of their kids we do not want to usurp authority of influence away from the parents. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!! There are ways to visibly care for students that will go farther than you know. There was a student there on Wednesday this week that I just asked if he was going to be there without formally inviting him. He said he did not usually come and I left it at that. This proves my point because he showed up. There was not one clue that he gave me to insure that I had influenced him but we know that people vote with their feet. They are on to you when you are trying to show them that you care. Believe it or not you don’t have to try that hard! John Maxwell calls this “walking slowly through the crowd”. Take your time while speaking with students letting them know you are listening but don’t be so engaged that you border on the ‘creepy’. Just so you know I am not making reference to any one thing I saw this week but is good for us to know as policy.
For the past 13 years in youth ministry I always thought that every youth dept needed wrestling time. It was always a common occurrence for one of our counselors to be getting jumped on tackled and so on. I don’t do it as much now because most of them would embarrass me by taking me down! Let me explain this…

*Jr. High boys need appropriate touch from a caring adult so it comes naturally to them to want to wrestle with an adult they are comfortable around. This also bleeds into our programming for Middle School that we make sure to use all the senses. You can still do cheesy games, drama, and half way good music with the Jr. High because excellence is not quite a factor yet for this age group as it is more for those in High School.

*Sr. High Students are there for the sole reason of relationships. Most 9-12 graders go to the mall to see others and to be seen. Although it may seem shallow – the majority of our students come for the same reason. I am not saying this needs to be addressed and challenged but used to our benefit. This should not be viewed as being shallow on our part as leaders but wise because we are keying into their thought process. Wrestling, pushing, and too much jesting can embarrass older students whether they seem to be responding or not. Being a spiritual leader goes far beyond knowing how to connect on a personal level. Connecting on a personal level is VERY IMPORTANT but to the extent that we still hold the position of a “Spiritual Leader”.

With all that said I am excited to see that you guys were already off to a great start before we got here and I am honored to come on board with you all in this ministry!
I got this from a friend of mine and thought that I would pass it along.
5 Ways to Create a Healthy Small Group Environment

1. Be the first to arrive. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, but arriving late can throw off the whole night. Being there before everyone else allows you to set the tone for the night and make sure everything is in place. If you are scrambling around, it can lead to a messy night.

2. Communicate with host home family. (I am putting this in just in case we decide to make some of our groups to meet off site.) Spend some time getting to know the home you’ll be staying in. Maybe visit them ahead of time and talk about expectations. Be sure to be completely filled in on the “house rules” about animals, furniture, food and drinks.

3. Make sure meeting area is set-up and ready to go each night. Look for distractions that need to be eliminated. Make sure the room is available, relatively clean with the lights on. Turn off the TV/iPod/Computer and think about placing a basket at the door for cell phones to minimize distractions. You can’t go wrong with plenty of places to sit, too.

4. Sit at same level with students. While as a leader you do control the night, keep the style of the night conversational by sitting with them and not above them. Make sure you keep the environment attentive and help students not to lay down and laying all over each other.

5. Put the meeting area back. If the host home family was gone, our goal is that when they return home they have a conversation wondering if you even met or not. Make sure the students completely reset the room and clean up trash, throw away food and put furniture back if it was moved.
Please let me know if you plan on attending our meeting this Sunday at 4:30 pm. If I don’t talk to you before then have a great weekend and God bless!
Tim H.

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