Everything you believe about student ministry isn't true.
This isn’t completely your fault.
It’s easy for myths to work their way into what we believe.
Over the years, a variety of student ministry myths have taken hold.
Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:
- Bigger entertainment leads to better outreach
- Killer music is the key to a weekly night of worship
- Students crave newer facilities with the latest gadgets
If you believe these myths, hold on for a moment.
These ideas may work for some churches in the short-term. But these ideas tend not to create lasting results. Besides, it’s nearly impossible for your church to compete with the entertainment industry. No one has enough money for that.
Now that we have that out of the way, it’s natural to think:
What in the world works in reaching students with the gospel today?
Thankfully, what works isn’t earth-shattering, and it won’t cost your church a ton of money.
According to research conducted by The Barna Group, there are two really simple ideas your church should focus on to reach and retain students:
- Build Relationships
- Prioritize Discipleship
Practically speaking, there are many different ways your church can implement these two principles in your student ministry. Let’s take a look at five ways you can put these ideas into practice.
#1 – Use a two-pronged approach
Student ministry can play a big role in sharing the gospel with students.
In fact, according to a different study by The Barna Group, the majority of Christians in the United States commit their life to Jesus before they turn 18. Here’s what they found:
The current Barna study indicates that nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%) and that two out of three born-again Christians (64%) made a commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday.
Did you catch that?
The majority of self-identified born-again Christians (64 percent) in the United States placed their faith in Jesus Christ before they turned 18. This means that students between the ages of 13–18 are a prime field to share the gospel.
Before you turn your student ministry into a full-blown evangelistic outreach, hold on.
Unlike your college ministry, your student ministry should possess a two-pronged approach:
Support parents and guardians
We address the first point mentioned above elsewhere, and you can read our thoughts here.
In short, don’t eject parents and guardians from your student ministry, and find ways you can include your church-wide family into the lives of students (more on this in a bit).
With that in mind, as a student leader, you still want to take the gospel to students.
(Keyword is take.)
Many students will be attracted to your student ministry for different reasons, and will attend when a friend invites them or when their family attends your worship services. But at the end of the day, you and your church must also go to students. Let’s dig into what that looks like.
#2 – Serve the schools in your area
The first place to reach students are schools.
This doesn’t mean you can walk into any school willy-nilly and start a Bible study. That won’t work at all.
To be present at schools, you’ll have to build a relationship with teachers and administrative staff. This isn’t a process you can rush, and keep in mind one thing:
Many schools are under-resourced (in terms of staff and money), and they’ll likely be open to practical support from your church.
Think of practical ways you can be an encouragement and provide tangible support for schools. From providing lunches or coffee to offering your facilities for events, identify ways you can show some love and build relationships.
In time, through your presence, through students from your church in the school, and through connections with parents and guardians, you’ll be able to create awareness for your student ministry.
#3 – Get ready for students
You’ve reached new students.
You’ve made a ton of new connections.
And now they’ve attended your weekly gathering or event.
So what’s the next step you want them to take?
If you don’t know the answer to this question, then everything you do to reach students will be a bust because you don’t have a practical way to retain them.
Here’s the deal:
Engaging new students who attend whatever you organized sets the stage for the remainder of their experience. If you make it easy for them to take a meaningful next step with your ministry, you’re in a much better position to share the gospel and get them plugged into your church. Miss following up or providing them with a tangible next step, and you run the risk of losing them.
The next steps you provide can vary. But remember, the two things you need to focus on is building relationships and making disciples.
Next, we’ll look at a few ways churches are finding success in accomplishing these goals.
#4 – Create community while making disciples
At first, there are two next steps you want to encourage students to take:
- Weekly meetings
- Small groups
Does your church currently run a student ministry?
Then there’s a good chance you’re already running a weekly meeting.
Planning on launching a student ministry?
Then consider organizing a weekly meeting for your students.
For your weekly meeting, it’s ideal if it's something Christian and non-Christian students can attend. Depending upon your church, this idea may make some parents or guardians uncomfortable. So be prepared to cast a vision your church members can get behind, and be ready if some families don’t catch the vision.
In reaching students, this is the first step they will take in getting connected with your student ministry. A weekly meeting requires little commitment; it’s a great opportunity to experience your student ministry; and students will have an opportunity to hear the gospel and meet other students and members of your church.
After leading students to attend your weekly meeting, another step churches have found helpful is to provide small groups.
Providing small groups for your students is one way you can lead people from a weekly (larger group) meeting to a small setting where they can meet people one-on-one and study the Bible together.
A student ministry small group does two really big things:
- Connects students with other students
- Provides adult volunteers with an opportunity to build relationships with students
Both of these ideas are key to building relationships with students and making disciples. Basically, the more people students meet throughout your entire church—the better.
#5 – Make your student ministry sticky
Want to make your student ministry stick?
Get students to stay around by encouraging them to volunteer.
When talking about volunteering, I’m not necessarily talking about leading other students or your children’s ministry, and I’m not talking about cleaning up after your service either. There are many roles students can fill that require more than being a warm body in a pew.
For example, students can volunteer in strategic positions, like:
- Tech and sound
- Stage announcements
- Children’s ministry
In your student ministry, encourage students to get involved in your church. There’s no need for them to sit on their hands when they can use them to serve.
That’s not all.
There’s another way you can encourage students to serve:
Through domestic and international mission trips.
Mission trips—even if they’re domestic—are a great way to give students a taste of serving. A mission trip is a short-term commitment that can be a long-term influence in students’ lives for Christ.
Over to you
I hope this truth brings a breath of fresh air:
Creating an exciting, powerful, and world-changing student ministry doesn’t require a multi-million dollar budget—it primarily requires building relationships and making disciples. In your church, how this looks will be different based upon your location, demographics, budget, and staff or volunteers. When praying through how to reach and retain students, use these principles and ideas I shared above. But be open to doing whatever it takes to build relationships and help students to follow Jesus.
Starting a college ministry is arguably the best way to reach people for Christ.
Think about it.
Colleges are one of the remaining institutions in the United States where a large group of people gathers together on a regular basis throughout the year. From classes to clubs to fraternities, college students spend most of their time on or around campus.
Know what else?
Many college students are asking tough questions about faith. They’re being introduced to new ideas, and they want to know what they believe and why they believe it. This is an ideal time to share the gospel and make disciples.
Even though colleges boast a potential huge harvest (Matt 9:35–38), starting a college ministry isn’t easy. It takes faith, prayer, and a whole lot of time.
If you’re not discouraged, hang tight.
In this post, I’m going to share with you 6 steps you can take to launch a college ministry, build relationships with students, and make new disciples.
Let’s dive in!
#1 – Do your research
Starting a college ministry isn’t like starting another ministry in your church.
It’s not a Bible study.
It’s not a small group.
It’s not just another hangout.
Will your college ministry include some of these components?
But that’s missing the point.
Here’s what I want to stress:
A college ministry is primarily an outreach ministry.
Starting a college ministry is not only about creating a program for the college students in your church to join—it’s about launching your church into the life of the college or university in your town.
Possessing a missionary mindset is crucial to whether you can successfully launch a college ministry. Starting a college ministry without a missionary mindset would be like starting a cross-country road trip with a half a tank of gas—you’re not going to make it.
As a missionary to a college or university, there are two main things you need to do:
- Know the college
- Know the students
Before moving forward, you need to know who you’re going to reach before you can know what you need to do to reach them. Also, during this process, you’ll be better able to explore your calling to know if God is leading your church to start a college ministry.
The first thing you need to do is to get to know the college or university.
To get to know the college you want to reach, you’ll need to gather some basic information.
- What is the strength of the school?
- What majors are popular?
- Does the school draw male and female students?
- What nationalities are represented?
- Are sports popular? What teams?
- Do students live in dorms or off campus?
- Are fraternities and sororities present?
- What events or student organizations are popular?
- Where do students spend their time outside of class?
- What Christian organizations or churches are on campus?
A lot of this information you can gather online or by checking out the college on social media.
But you’ll be able to learn so much more when you explore the campus.
Plan on spending time on campus.
Take more than one day to walk around, observe, and ask questions. If possible, connect with professors or staff members of the college or university to get their input.
While you’re getting to know the school, you’ll also want to get to know the students.
Getting to know what types of students attend the college or university in general, as well as meeting students in person will help you to clarify how to best reach them with the gospel.
Here are some questions you can ask:
- What is their gender?
- How old are they?
- Where do they live (e.g., on campus, off campus)?
- Do they attend sporting events?
- Are they involved in fraternities or sororities?
- Do they participate in student groups?
- What are their values and beliefs?
- What does their day-to-day life look like?
- Where do they spend time online?
As with the school, you can get a good idea about most of this information online. But you’ll receive so much more clarity and insight, and get a better feel for the overall vibe of the school and students by being physically present on the campus.
While you’re gathering intel, start to think through what objections to the gospel you’ll encounter or ways you can best connect with students on campus. Keeping a running log of this information will help you create an outreach plan, if you believe the Lord is calling you to start a college ministry.
#2 – Build a team
Like any ministry in your church, college ministry isn’t something you want to do alone.
You must build a leadership team from the beginning.
The team you build should include two key ingredients:
- College students
- Church Members
Before exploring these two groups in detail, I encourage you to think through the size of your leadership team. To get started, you don’t need a huge number of people. Gathering 3–5 college students and 3–5 church members should be sufficient to create a solid core team.
Reaching a college without the help of college students is really … difficult.
As you prepare to launch a college ministry, I’d strongly advise you to include your church’s college students from the get-go. The college students in your church have relationships with other students, access to the campus and school events, and they will be a tremendous blessing to your ministry.
Do you have a few dozen college students in your church?
Well, I hate to break it to you, but not every one of them can be on your leadership team. That’s way too many cooks in the kitchen.
Before narrowing down who you’d like to invite onto the leadership team of the college ministry, pray and observe who are natural leaders. If college students are already serving in your church, then that’s a good indication they’re open to taking on more responsibility.
Here’s another idea:
Host a night for all of the college students to meet and talk about the college ministry.
Give them an opportunity to dream. Hear their hearts. Listen to the ideas they have to share.
Also, during this evening, see if anyone comes forward as a clear leader of the group. Pay attention to what everyone has to say and see if there are individuals in the group whose peers naturally gravitate toward as a leader.
One last word of advice:
Don’t treat the students on your team like … students. Said another way, don’t give them a voice and then not really count their vote or opinion (you know what I’m talking about). God can work through every single member of your leadership team—including your college students.
The second group of people you want to include on your college ministry leadership team are church members. From this group, be sure to include individual adults and couples.
Your church members can provide support, host students and events, and take part in whatever tactics you put together. Like any other ministry in your church, be sure the church members you invite express an interest and have a calling for this type of ministry.
Recruiting your team
Ready to recruit your leadership team?
There are two things you should do to make it easier:
- Clarify expectations
- Set a date
For anyone serving on your leadership team, make sure to clarify their expectations. Let them know what they should focus on. Give them a handful of things they’ll be responsible for.
Letting your volunteer leaders know up-front what’s expected will help them to make better decisions.
What is more, set a date for how long you’d like for them to commit. For example, do you want them to commit for the fall and spring semester, and maybe one event over the summer?
Here’s the deal:
When volunteers know there’s a deadline to their commitment, then they’ll feel so much more comfortable accepting your offer.
Need more help developing your leaders?
Take the time to develop a leadership pipeline in your church.
#3 – Pray, pray, and pray
Prayer is so much more than a rote activity.
Prayer is the engine that runs your church.
As you explore starting a college ministry, first commit to praying.
At first, you don’t have to launch a church-wide prayer campaign. The best thing to do as a church leader is to pray yourself, and then invite your church’s leadership and others who may be interested in starting a college ministry to join you.
After you launch a college ministry, the way you approach prayer will change.
You’ll want to continually pray for the college or university, the students (in general and by name), your leadership team, and for your church.
Here are three ways you can incorporate prayer:
- Ask for church-wide prayer
- Build a prayer team
- Use social media
When encouraging your church to pray, be sure to add your college ministry to whatever prayer lists you currently have available. Also, if your church hosts prayer meetings, add time into your meeting to pray for your college ministry.
Another idea to consider is building a prayer team. When it comes to your college ministry, many people may not be able to physically participate in your work. But they may be able and willing to join you in your spiritual work through prayer. Find someone in your church to lead this prayer team, and provide him or her with updates and prayer requests.
At times on social media, share prayer requests or let your social media followers know how they can join you in prayer. One easy way to do this is when you share updates about your ministry.
#4 – Build relationships
As a missionary to a college campus, God calls you to make disciples.
There are many ways you can connect with new college students and share the gospel.
But there’s one thing you can’t afford to miss:
Before thinking through events, programs, and Bible studies, you and your team will need to clarify how you’ll build relationships with college students.
Here’s the deal:
According to one study and confirmed by many others, most college students (64%) feel lonely. But like the vast majority of people, most of these college students will not be open to hearing what you have to say if they don’t know you.
There’s a time or place for hard-hitting evangelistic tactics. But in general, that’s not going to work on a college campus. To reach college students, you have to get to know college students.
Practically speaking, be slow to share the gospel and be quick to build relationships. It’s okay to take your time with this process. In other words, don’t focus on building a program or hosting a one-time event. Instead, focus on building long-term relationships with students.
To be honest, there’s nothing too fancy about this process. All it requires is to be present and patient.
In your college ministry, there’s a good chance that most of your time will be spent hanging out with students, and that’s okay. This tactic may not be looked upon favorably by people who are not involved in your ministry. But building relationships is vital to the livelihood of your college ministry.
Practically speaking, plan on carving out a significant portion of your schedule to be present on campus. It’s also a good idea to empower your leadership team and others to spend time building relationships too.
Now that we’ve settled this point, let’s turn our attention to reaching and discipling students.
#5 – Reach and disciple students
There’s at least one good thing about starting a college ministry:
You have a ready-made calendar to work with.
When launching your organized events, it’s best to work with the school's calendar. For instance, you don't want to launch a big event during spring break—no one is going to be on campus.
As you think through your plans, work your way into the natural rhythms of the school.
There are two ways you can do this:
During the week, life at the college or university you want to reach has natural ebbs and flows. In other words, it’s best to swim with the tide instead of launching something that goes against the rhythms already in place. As a missionary, your goal is to work yourself into the life of the campus—not against it.
For example, you’ll have to work around class schedules, time students tend to hang out during the day, or sporting events, programs, or clubs taking place during the week. Instead of competing with popular events or scheduling a Bible study during normal class time, find a way to work whatever you do into the life of the school.
Three additional big items you want to be aware of are fall, spring, and summer semesters.
As you think through your plans, be sure not to launch big events during midterms or finals. Instead, think about providing food and drinks for students or a place to refresh themselves during this time.
When it comes to the different semesters, keep in mind that activities on campus ramp up toward the beginning of the semester, but life on campus tends to die down toward the end.
Finally, during the summer semester or break, consider hosting events or mission trips to encourage college students to stay connected or serve others. Organizing short-term trips can be a great way to build community and maintain your momentum going into the next fall semester.
#6 – Evaluate your college ministry
Your college ministry will never “arrive.”
There’s not a destination you’ll reach when you know your work is done.
As you build a team, pray, and reach college students, you can learn a ton along the way and God may lead you to do something you didn’t originally plan on.
After you start your college ministry, plan on gathering your team together to evaluate how things are going after the fall and spring semester. This doesn’t mean you can’t address things in between these times. But it’s best to set a time to evaluate (and celebrate) your work.
Here are some questions you can ask to evaluate your ministry:
- How does everyone feel about his or her role on the team?
- How many new college students did we meet?
- How many students took next steps?
- Did we accomplish our goals with the events, Bible study, or weekly gathering?
- What can we do differently?
- How well did we keep the prayer team informed?
These questions will help you to get started.
To put together a more thorough evaluation, our team created an evaluation tool you can use. It’s a part of the resource library we created at Church Fuel. This form will help you to evaluate every nook and cranny of your college ministry, and it will also provide you with a list of topics for conversations.
During your evaluations, make it a point to celebrate your wins. From meeting new students to starting a small group, provide everyone on your leadership team an opportunity to share one or more recent wins, as well as how he or she is growing from the experience.
Over to you
If you have a college or university in your town, consider starting a college ministry.
If your church isn’t in a great spot to launch a new ministry, consider partnering with another church in your community or an organization that is already active on campus.
There are countless college students who need to hear the gospel. Pray and see if God is calling you to be the one to share the good news.
As a church leader, discipling children is challenging.
You have one significant roadblock you have to overcome: Time.
Think about it.
How much time does your church spend discipling children?
Do you provide programs or Bible studies?
Does your staff or volunteers spend one-on-one time discipling students?
Make an honest evaluation of the amount of time your church directly influences children.
Is it one hour per week?
Do you offer 2–3 hours of training?
Regardless of how much time you spend, it fails in comparison to the amount of time children spend with their family’s during the week.
My intention in telling you this isn't to smash your hopes against the rocks. Think of what I’m saying more like waving smelling salts under your nose to wake you up to the reality your church faces when it comes passing the torch of faith to the next generation.
Does this mean you shouldn’t provide programs or Bible studies for children?
Nope. That’s not the case at all.
The point I want to stress is that you should view the programs you offer as support to parents—not a replacement.
Here’s the good news:
There’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
You won’t need to make significant changes in your church to empower parents and guardians to become disciple-makers in their home.
In this post, I’m going to share with you three overlooked ways you can lead parents to disciple their children. What I’m going to share isn’t necessarily revolutionary. But it will help you to connect the dots.
Here we go!
#1. Lead parents and guardians to live for Jesus
Discipling children doesn’t begin with children.
Discipling children begins with their parents and guardians.
Can you influence a child for Christ?
But as a church leader, it’s difficult to disciple children if their parents or guardians are not committed to Jesus.
Here’s the deal:
As you lead parents to live for Jesus, then they’ll be able to guide their children to live for him.
Parents have everything they need to disciple their children.
God gives them the grace and power they need to fulfill their calling as a parent.
In writing to the church at Corinth, Paul had these encouraging words to share:
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9).
In Christ, parents receive the power they need to lead their family to live and love like Jesus.
Do they need specialized training?
No. But it's helpful for parents to read books, attend parenting conferences or seminars, and seek help.
Are there certain “things” parents should do?
Sure. But it’s not as tricky as you probably think it is.
What’s the bottom line?
The most significant influence in the life of a child is their parents and who they are as a Christian.
Before parents can lead their children to follow Jesus, you must lead parents to drink from the wells of God's grace first.
#2. Help parents to talk about their faith
Life as a Christian isn’t a to-do list—it’s a lifestyle.
It’s who we are and what we do.
In time, our faith in Christ will lead us to live like Christ.
The holds true for discipling children.
What does this mean for church leaders?
It means you need to help parents see that faith is more than participating in a worship service. From the time we wake up in the morning to the moment we go to bed at night, our devotion to Jesus influences what we believe, how we live, and how we parent.
Practically speaking, for parents, here’s what I’m talking about:
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deut 6:6–9).
From this one passage, you can see that discipling children is more than what your church can offer during a weekday or weekend worship service. Discipleship mostly takes place in the home.
As a church leader, encourage parents and guardians to make the most of their everyday life.
During the day, families have several natural times they can talk about their faith, including:
- During dinner
- Before bedtime
- On the road
- One-on-one time
Let’s take a look at these in detail.
During dinner, encourage families to give thanks to God for their food (1 Tim. 4:5). After a prayer of thanksgiving, challenge parents to make it a priority to talk about their kids’ days and find ways they can connect conversations back to Christ.
Before bedtime is a natural time parents can share their faith and encourage their children. If you missed a dinnertime opportunity to talk and pray, encourage parents to pray for their children and ask them specifically what they can pray for.
Do parents drive their kids to school? They can redeem a portion of this time by talking with their kiddos in the car.
Another helpful way parents can engage their children is by planning one-on-one time with their kids. By taking their children out for a treat, lunch, or whatever, parents will have plenty of time to ask questions and listen to what they have to say.
There are plenty of opportunities for parents and guardians during the day. But these few suggestions will help you to lead parents to engage their children at key moments.
#3. Equip parents to read the Bible
Over the years, there are several common ways churches have reached out to children:
- Sunday school
- Vacation Bible study
- Youth groups
As I mentioned above, these programs—and others—are helpful, and they are a tremendous support for parents. However, to disciple children, you have to equip parents and guardians to become disciple-makers in their home.
There are several resources available to help you do this. But there’s a straightforward discipleship hack any parent can use regardless of how long he or she has been following Jesus.
This tip doesn’t require building an extensive library, obtaining a seminary degree, or attending a conference.
The only thing parents will need is a Bible, time, and staying one step ahead.
Here’s the big idea:
Encourage parents to read the Bible with their family, and ask three simple questions.
- What did the Bible say?
- What does it mean?
- How does this change me?
Let me break this down.
With the first question, the goal is to lead children to think about what they just read. Think “reading comprehension.” At this point, encourage parents not to worry about talking about the meaning of the text. The only thing they need to focus on is helping their children understand what was written.
Pro tip: Parents can crank this up a notch by helping their children make relevant cross-references in the Bible. Doing this will help children to see that every individual book of the Bible ties into one big story of redemption.
After kids know what the Bible says, ask the second question to help them understand what it means. For some portions of the Bible, such as the Historical Books like Joshua and Ruth, you may not be able to pull out a meaning per se. But for other books of the Bible, such as the Prophetic Books (Isaiah) and the Epistles (1 Corinthians), you’ll be able to pull out a ton of meaning.
Take your time. Don’t feel a need to rush this question.
Pro tip: Parents can read ahead to identify key themes in the passage, and potential questions children may ask. Staying one step ahead is the name of the game.
Finally, with the last question, the big idea is to help children apply what was read and discussed. Again, there will be times when you won’t have anything earth-shattering to share, and that’s okay.
Pro tip: Encourage parents to identify one idea their family can focus on during the day or throughout the week. They’ll be surprised by how often this will come up during that time.
Champion parents and the church
Parents and guardians are the best people for the job of discipling their children.
As you challenge parents to fulfill their call as disciple-makers, don’t forget to let them know that your church is there to support and equip them to lead their family well. Let parents know they can reach out to a pastor, elder or deacon, or someone in your church they can learn from
Not everyone in your church is in a small group.
It’s possible for 100 percent of your church to be in a small group.
But this isn’t necessarily a good goal to shoot for.
Think about it.
If 100 percent of your church is in a small group, then that indicates your church isn't experiencing new growth. If you consistently welcome first-time guests and new members, then everyone in your church will not be in a small group. But this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be.
In general, in the life of your church, you'll observe these patterns:
- New people visit your church
- New people commit to your church as members
- New people commit to small groups
- Current small group participants stop attending
Since your church will experience these patterns, you should expect to see increases and decreases in your small group attendance.
But here’s the million dollar question:
How many people in your church should be in a small group?
There’s no hard rule to this answer.
Many different church leaders suggest different metrics.
As a general rule of thumb, it’s ideal to aim for 75 percent of your church to be in a small group.
If you have this many people currently in small groups, this doesn’t mean your work is done.
Far from it.
If your church prioritizes small groups, you will need to consistently promote them to your church. Remember, new people will visit your church and people currently in your small groups will stop attending at some point. So, if you don’t promote your small groups, then you can expect attendance to decline.
Regardless if you’re just getting started or if your small group participation has plateaued or declined, you need to have a plan in place to encourage more people to get involved.
In this post, I want to help you create a plan for your church to increase your small group attendance.
We’re going to take a look at two big topics:
- 6 reasons why people don’t join small groups
- 6 surefire ways to increase your small group participation
Let’s dig in!
6 reasons why people don’t join small groups
Small groups don’t always work.
Before you promote your small groups, you need to know why people usually don’t join one.
When you’re aware of the challenges, you’ll be better able to address them and lead people to sign up. Besides, not every
Here’s what you should expect to be up against.
#1 – People aren't aware of your small groups
Does everyone in your church know about small groups?
Don’t expect people to participate if they don’t know what’s going on.
From first-time guests to new, regular attenders, there’s a variety of people who may not be aware of your small group ministry.
What is more, people are attending worship services less often. Since churchgoers are attending worship services less frequently, this means you will have to talk about your small group more than a couple of times a year.
#2 – They don't think they're important
Do people in your church value small groups?
Have they captured a vision for biblical community?
Is biblical community a value embraced by your church’s leadership and staff?
When you struggle to lead people to sign up for small groups, your problem may not necessarily be a lack of promotion. The culture of your church may not be ready to support a small group ministry.
Never assume everyone in your church has the same beliefs and values. Everyone striving to live and love like Jesus is at a different place in their journey, and they may not yet grasp how important Christian community is to their spiritual well-being.
#3 – Lack of time
Families in your church and community are busy.
Their schedules are crowded with work, school activities, and simply, parenting. In a recent survey, it was found that parents spend an average of 27 hours per week on basic family stuff, like cooking, cleaning, and commuting.
Practically speaking, people in your church don’t have a lot of free time.
It’s a big mistake to assume parents or guardians will drop everything, right this moment, when you promote small groups. There are a variety of reasons why families in your church are too busy to do anything. Find out what’s causing their schedules to be jam-packed, and speak directly into that instead of thinking they just don’t care.
Speaking of a lack of time, your church may be unintentionally leading people to stumble and fall before they even commit to joining a small group, which brings me to my next point.
#4 – Too many programs
How many programs, events, and ministries do you offer adults in your church?
If you offer more than one program, you could be at fault for not growing your small group ministry.
Here’s the deal:
Every program in your church competes for the time of your church members.
Everyone in your church faces the same limitation with time: 24/7/365.
Once they (or you) spend your time doing anything, that time is gone. So, if your church members are tied up with other programs and ministries in your church, then they won’t have the time to join a small group.
I’ll hit on this more below, but there’s a chance you’ll need to simplify your church’s calendar by reducing some ministries in order to build other ministries.
#5 – They’re afraid
A small percentage of people in your church will avoid small groups like the plague.
According to one study, 17 percent of adults in Western cultures fear intimacy and avoid close relationships. Don’t be surprised if some people in your church possess a similar fear.
The reasons why people fear relationships will differ.
Fight the temptation to address everyone’s fear the same. It’s a good idea to address common fears in your sermons or at other times. But strive to counsel people one-on-one to help them overcome their fears.
#6 – They’re not sure what to do with their children
One big hurdle you have to help parents cross is what they’ll do with their children.
Will they need to provide their own childcare?
Will the small group provide childcare?
Will their children be in the same room during discussions?
The biggest challenge parents face will be childcare. There are three ideal small group childcare options. Regardless of how your church’s small groups takes care of children, be sure to share this with parents to help them prepare.
Your church may not face every one of these challenges.
Take the time to pray through what roadblocks your church will face in promoting your small group ministry. As you work on addressing these hurdles, you’ll also be ready to promote your small groups, which leads me to the next point.
6 surefire ways to increase your small group participation
I have some good news and bad news to share with you about building your small group ministry. Since I want to end on a positive note, let’s get the bad news out of the way first.
Here it is:
You cannot rely on promotional tactics alone to build your small group ministry.
If you only talk about small groups, you won’t be able to build a life-giving small group ministry. To do this, you need to have a supportive church culture that embraces and values biblical community.
What’s the good news?
It’s never too late to create a church culture that supports biblical community and small groups.
To help you get started, I’d like to share two points below (prayer and culture) that will help you build a church culture that embraces biblical community. Afterward, I’m going to share four promotional tactics you can use to increase small group participation.
#1 – Lead with prayer
Small groups in your church are so much more than just another program.
Small groups can be a catalyst of change in people’s lives. They can help people live out their faith in Christian community and build relationships with other church members. Small groups can also serve as a safe place for individuals to share their struggles.
The building blocks of anything your church sets out to accomplish is prayer. Prayer is the engine that runs your church. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, prayer is “… the powerhouse of [the] church.”
You can put together an efficient small group ministry.
You can launch a compelling campaign to encourage more people to sign up.
But if you don’t pray for the spiritual growth and well-being of your people, then don’t be surprised if your efforts only provide short-term results and don’t lead to lasting change.
God is at work in your church.
He's changing people into the image and likeness of Jesus.
He's the only one who can truly help your church members prioritize their spiritual growth.
As you promote your small groups, pray for God to work in the lives of your church members and build a life-giving Christian community.
Here are some prayers from the Bible for your church:
Ephesians 4:1–3 (ESV):
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Philippians 1:9–11 (ESV):
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
#2 – Create a culture of community
There’s one key component to leading people to participate in your small groups:
Building a church culture that values Christian community.
Regardless if your church is just getting ready to promote small groups or if you’re looking for ways to boost your small group participation, you have to focus on your church’s culture while you focus on promoting small groups.
Here’s the deal:
It will take more than a program or a flashy marketing campaign to grow your small groups.
You need to build a church culture that values biblical community and encourages church members to make it a priority to participate in small groups. Said another way, you want your church to value small groups as an essential part of their life—not just as another program.
You’re probably thinking:
Does this mean I can’t promote small groups until the church culture is ready?
The answer to this question is both yes and no.
Changing the culture of your church takes time.
As you teach your church about the importance of biblical community, know that it can take months or years to see significant changes take place.
During this time, yes, you want to continue to promote your small groups. As you do so, you also want to focus on building a church culture that readily embraces community.
Here are three ways you can turn the tide in your church:
#1 – Make it a priority
Prioritize small groups in your church by simplifying your church’s ministries.
Remember, every program, ministry, and event in your church competes with each other and for the time of your church members. To prioritize small groups, you need to take an honest look at your church’s calendar to see if you can eliminate any activity to create more margin in the life of your church to participate in small groups.
#2 – Preach and teach about biblical community
Do you know how you can change the heart of your church?
That’s God’s work.
How does God change people?
One of the big ways God shapes and molds you and your church is through the Bible.
Make it a priority to preach or teach about biblical community.
Here are a couple of related themes from the Bible you can teach:
In the Bible, the church is often referred to as a body (1 Cor. 12).
In a real, spiritual sense, everyone who places his or her faith in Jesus Christ is connected with each other like the individual parts of a body are joined together.
As you preach about biblical community, show your church how small groups help build relationships and this sense of interdependence.
It’s important for everyone to gather together for worship. But it’s equally as important for your church members to live life together throughout the rest of the week.
You are made in the image of God.
A big part about being made in God’s image is community.
You see, God is one God who exists as three Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in perfect, eternal community. Since we are created in God’s image, we are created to be in community with each other—not to live a life of isolation.
With your community groups, strive to create a safe, healthy, and meaningful way for people to connect with other Christians.
Alright, with these two foundational pillars in place, let’s turn our attention to promotional tactics.
#3 – Lead by example
Are you involved with a small group?
Do your staff members, elders or deacons, or key leaders participate in a small group?
It can be difficult for you and your church’s staff to join a small group. But leading by example is essential to encouraging your church to participate in small groups.
Don’t expect your church members to do something you’re not doing yourself.
#4 – Hold a small group event
Depending on your church’s calendar, hold a small group event 1 to 2 times per year.
Here are two common names for these types of events:
- Small Group Fair
- Connection Event
Regardless of what you call it, your goal is to host an event to focus on promoting your small groups and to encourage people to sign up on the spot.
When you host such an event, here are the three things you’ll need to do:
- Preach an abbreviated sermon
- Have small group leaders available
- Provide a way for people to sign up
During a connection event, consider preaching an abbreviated sermon on biblical community. Talk about the benefits of living in community with other Christians. Share stories of life-transformation in your church. Let people know how important small groups are to the well-being of your church.
At the end of your worship service, be sure to have small group leaders available. During these events, you’re encouraging people who are not in a small group to join one. Don’t treat this as a hard sale where someone has to “join now.” Rather, encourage your small group leaders to ask questions, listen, and strike up a casual conversation.
Finally, make sure you provide a way for people to sign up. You can get away with a clipboard and paper or you can position tablets in your foyer for people to access your church’s website online to sign up. Either way, make it easy for people to provide their information.
There’s one more facet to connection events I want to address next.
#5 – Short-term small group campaigns
One big concern people have is committing to a long-term group.
Remember, the people you want in small groups have a jam-packed schedule. They don’t have much wiggle room or emotional bandwidth to simply get involved with a small group.
To help people overcome this challenge, many churches have had success with short-term small group campaigns.
The concept is pretty self-explanatory.
But here’s the big idea:
At key times during the year, promote short-term small groups people can join for 3–6 weeks.
This timeframe isn’t a hard rule, and we don’t have data saying whether it’s best to go with 3 weeks or 6 weeks or more. The main thing you want to focus on is making it super easy for people new to small groups to commit, which is why I lean toward having groups that meet for 3–4 weeks.
The topic you cover doesn’t really matter. What matters is giving new people a taste of community, an opportunity to meet new people, and a chance to learn more about your church.
When promoting these groups, consider these two key times:
Many people in your church and community build their schedule around their kids’ school schedules. By launching small groups in the fall (September) or winter (January), you can align with the time at which parents or guardians are getting back into a rhythm with school and extracurricular activities.
#6 – Equip your small group leaders
You need more than a warm body to serve as a small group leader.
You need someone who desires to lead and has an ability to facilitate conversations.
Whoever leads your small groups, you’ll need to equip him or her for success.
Here are three ways you can equip your small group leaders:
Don’t assume your small group leaders know what you know or believe what your church believes. I’m not saying you have to be on the lookout for wolves in your midst. But I am suggesting that everyone is probably not on the same page, and that’s okay and to be expected.
As a church leader, your job is to provide training.
When it comes to training your small group leaders, you can:
- Provide one-day training
- Offer online classes
- Purchase books
- Offer one-on-one coaching or group sessions
There’s more than one way you can train your leaders. Think through what they need to know, and make sure you’re providing them with the training they need to succeed in their position.
What is more, remember that your small group leaders are volunteers and that their time is limited. Make it easy for your leaders by providing them with the resources they need to lead their groups well.
For example, if your church provides sermon-based small groups, be sure to provide the questions your small group leaders need ahead of time.
With the questions you provide, consider including a few suggested answers or responses. By supplying this information, you’ll set up your leaders to focus on facilitating a conversation—not spending a few hours in a Bible study getting ready.
Finally, help your small group leaders with outreach.
I’m not talking about asking them to go door-to-door in their neighborhood to pass out tracts. There’s nothing wrong with this. But that’s not what I have in mind.
Help your small group leaders to identify new people in your church, such as first-time guests, and to strike up a conversation with them. They can then invite someone new to their group or encourage them to join a different group if it’s a better fit.
What is more, following up with individual small group participants is huge, and this is something that’s usually overlooked. By following up with casual members, your small group leaders can encourage more people to participate and experience the benefits of community.
Provide your small group leaders with the resources they need to keep track of their small group members, and to follow up with them during the week. In many ways, your small group leaders can serve like mini-pastors under your care and direction.
Ready to build your small group ministry?
There’s a lot to digest in this post.
Take the time to prayerfully think through the challenges you’ll face, build a church culture that values biblical community, and make sure everyone in your church hears about your small groups more than once.
And while reading these three points doesn’t take too much time, be prepared to roll up your sleeves, pray, and get to work.
Every ministry in your church has a life cycle.
There are highs and lows.
There will be victories and challenges.
There will be times when you need to stop a ministry, and there are other times when you’ll only need to make a few adjustments. This is the nature of life in the church.
Your student ministry is one part of your church you’ll need to monitor regularly. I’m not saying you need to do this because you can’t trust student pastors or teens. That’s not the case at all.
But here’s the deal:
Life for teens is continually changing, and how well your church adapts to these changes will determine whether your student ministry is helping or hurting your church.
Today, I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of student ministry by saying what you should or shouldn’t do. Instead, I’d like to share three warning signs of a hurting student ministry.
#1 – Teens are disconnected from your church
Keeping your student ministry connected to your church is difficult.
You’ll face at least two distinct challenges:
- Maintaining alignment
- Keeping your teens connected
As with any ministry in your church, maintaining alignment requires ongoing maintenance.
Every ministry in your church—including your student ministry—will naturally drift toward misalignment. Said another way, your student ministry will float off course and pursue its own purpose separate from the church’s mission.
I’m not saying student ministers are evil.
What I’m trying to say is that you have to make sure your student ministry is supporting your church—not working against it.
This is just the nature of creating church alignment with any ministry.
Here are some ways to align your student ministry:
- Ensure the vision of your student ministry supports your church’s vision
- Regularly interact with your staff and volunteers
- Hold your staff and volunteers accountable
- Require a church leader (elder, deacon, etc.) to support your student ministry
There are many more ways you can maintain alignment, but here’s the big idea:
Make sure your student ministry leadership isn’t isolated.
Building a strong relationship with your staff and volunteers will not only keep your student ministry in alignment, but it will also develop better relationships.
The second challenge you’ll face is keeping teens connected to your church.
I’ll be honest:
This is easier said than done.
In many churches (maybe yours?), during your weekend worship service or mid-week service, students are led to participate in different programs separate from their parents.
This reality can make it really difficult to connect teens to your church—not just your student ministry. There’s a big difference between the two.
Thankfully, you don’t have to throw the baby (student ministry) out with the bathwater.
Based on research conducted by The Barna Group, in stemming the tide of young people leaving the church, they discovered the following tactics to be helpful:
- Prioritize discipleship
- Promote church-wide relationships
- Encourage greater commitment (e.g., volunteers)
- Offer one-on-one mentoring
- Sponsor teens
These are just a few ideas, but here are the two big things you should aim for:
- Help teens build relationships with people in different age groups
- Challenge teens to use their gifts in the church
This last point leads us to the next warning sign.
#2 – Teens have little (to no) expectations
What do you expect of the teenagers in your church?
Do you expect them to be active participants in your church community or to sit on the sidelines?
If you don’t expect much from the teens in your church, then don’t be surprised if they live up to your expectations.
Here’s the deal:
As a church, not setting high-expectations for your teens is like shooting yourself in the foot—you’re impeding the process of God’s work.
The teens in your church can play a vital role in the work of your church, and I’m not just talking about manual labor, either. There are many ways teens can participate in God’s work:
- Tech and sound
- Leading children’s ministry
- Social media
- Tech support
Instead of treating teens like passive participants, cast a big vision for them to pursue. Help them to explore God’s call on their life and to understand the potential He sees in them. Challenge teens to live and love like Jesus—today.
In the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy:
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in life, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).
As you challenge the teens in your church, you’ll remove the shackles holding them back from being a driving force for good work and God’s glory.
#3 – Parents are treated as enemies
What is the relationship like between your student ministry and parents?
Does your student ministry treat parents like allies or enemies?
I’m using hyperbole, but here’s the gist of what I’m saying:
Your student ministry will hurt your church if it operates independently from parents.
I’m not saying you can never run events or programs without parents. But what I’m suggesting is that your student ministry should have a two-pronged approach:
- Invest in teens
- Invest in parents
Above, I talked about investing in teens by focusing on relationship-building and discipleship.
When it comes to investing in parents, three things come to mind:
- See parents as teammates
- Challenge parents to lead their children
- Equip parents
Before you can invest in parents, you have to see them as a teammate, and there are a few reasons why this is the case.
First, the Bible lets us know that parents are considered the spiritual leaders of their children (Gen. 18:19; Deut. 6:1–9; Eph. 6:4). But this isn’t only about biblical precedence. This also has to do with being practical.
Think about it.
How much one-on-one time can you realistically spend with teens in your church?
Is it one hour?
Is it 2–3 three hours?
There are 168 hours in every week, and you’ll never be able to match the amount of time teens spend at home and with their parents or guardians. It’s just not possible.
Based on a variety of studies, I understand many Christian parents may not be actively leading their children to embrace Jesus. But this isn’t a reason to shun parents. Instead, this is a reason to challenge them to lead their children.
But how can you do this?
In your student ministry, strive to equip parents.
To do this, you may have to integrate your student ministry with other facets of your church life to make sure everyone is aligned.
You’ll also want to consider providing parental resources and biblical training.
In the beginning, I mentioned that life for teens is in flux. The challenges teens face today are not the same as the challenges parents once faced.
To help parents navigate these challenges, it’s ideal to equip them with biblical resources.
Here are some ways you can support parents in your church:
- Build relationships with parents
- Address parental topics in sermons
- Provide discounted parental books
- Recommend helpful parenting articles
- Host seminars
- Provide parental Sunday school or small groups
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a good launching pad to start.
Is your student ministry hurting your church?
There you have it.
Three warning signs your student ministry is hurting your church:
- It’s disconnected
- Teens have little (to no) expectations
- Parents are treated as enemies
Think of these signs like a check engine light in your car.
Take a moment to diagnosis your church, see if anything is causing a problem, and make the adjustments you need to create a life-giving student ministry.
As a pastor, it seems like the work never stops. Events happen after hours, you’re planning, attending meetings, making visits, and many of you side hustle when you can find the time to in your busy schedules.
We know you work incredibly hard to ensure the health and growth of your church.
But we believe that there is a reason God created rest.
He didn’t need to. He is beyond physical limitations.
But he did.
We’re not completely sure why, but we have a hunch it was to be an example to us. To let us know that we constantly need to come back to Him. Because all this hard work will be a hamster-wheel effect without regularly finding physical and spiritual rest.
And we need this daily, weekly, and annually.
So, let’s walk through 10 ways you can recharge on your time off.
1. Plan Big and Small Breaks.
In the same way you add work events and meetings to your calendar when you’re working, be sure to add in non-work events for when you’re off.
Scheduling in time to rest and recharge helps you remember and hold yourself accountable for doing it. See a free 30-minute gap? Schedule a walk around the lake or a time to read a book. Have an hour? Add a non-work related lunch meeting with a friend to your calendar. Having this downtime on your calendar gives you something to look forward to.
If you’re looking forward to a big vacation or sabbatical, add it to your calendar and set a countdown. The Momentum browser extension for Chrome helps eliminate distractions on your new tab page and also has a countdown widget. Apps like Countdown Star (iOS) or Countdown Days (Android) allow you to keep a countdown on your smartphone.
2. Read a Book.
When you can’t fly away to spend time on an island far away, losing yourself in a good story is the next best thing.
Studies have shown that reading reduces stress, enhances your imagination, and even helps you sleep better. Pastors read the Bible and theology books often, which is great of course, but when is the last time you read something else—purely for fun? A self-improvement, humor, or fiction book?
There are a lot of good options out there, including Christian fiction. We recommend a series by C.S. Lewis and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
There are a lot of everyday moments to make us laugh (or make us cry, to be honest) but why not use your time off to let loose and laugh on purpose?
It turns out there’s some truth to the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Laughing has numerous health benefits. It can reduce stress hormones, stimulate organs, and relieve pain. A 2017 study found that patients who listened to CDs of comic shows over a period of eight weeks saw a decrease in blood pressure.
Have we convinced you to recharge with some humor? Check out K-LOVE’s list of top Christian comedians.
4. Get Good Sleep.
We don’t need to convince you that sleep is a good thing. You know that, even if you don't get enough of it. We don’t need to convince you that the “after church on Sunday nap” is the best nap there is. Everyone knows that.
Getting some sleep is one of the best ways to recharge, so when you have time off, use that time to truly be “off.” Take that time to practice waking up and going to bed at the same time every day, which has some real benefits.
You can use a pen-and-paper sleep log to track your sleeping patterns. The Power Nap app helps you take effective, grogginess-free naps and the Sleep Cycle app analyzes your sleep patterns and wakes you up in the lightest sleep phases (also reducing grogginess). If you struggle with pressing the snooze button too many times, the Kiwake alarm clock app can help with that.
5. Step Outside.
Psalm 96:11-12 says, “ Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea and all that fills it resound. Let the fields and everything in them celebrate. Then all the trees of the forest will shout for joy…”
As created beings, we go through a lot in our lives on Earth. But gazing at the beauty of the One who made our bodies and minds is a great way to recharge. His amazing work is all around us.
Rent a bike and ride it around your city. Many cities have bike trails designed specifically for this. Check out the local schedule of outdoor festivals. Commit to walking for 20 minutes on the beach or in the park. Find any way to relax and recharge outdoors—engaging with nature is good for you!
6. Explore Your City.
There is a reason your are pastoring or are on staff at your church. You’ve committed to being a part of your city for a time, whether short or long-term.
That means you are hopefully a fan of your city or God has called you there, even if it isn’t your favorite place.
The greatest cure for cynicism is thankfulness. And if you’re not cynical or unhappy about your city, this skill is still a great practice.
Find something you love about your city. Maybe it’s an undiscovered bike trail, a new restaurant you’ve never been to, or a local gathering that happens once a month. You can use tools like Yelp, Facebook Events, and your city’s website to find out what’s going on in your area.
This could be a great staycation idea as well!
7. Learn or Practice an Instrument.
I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the piano.
I thought it was too late for me–that you had to learn how to play as a child. But the keys player in our worship band recently retired and began to offer piano lessons because there is a large need in our band for more keys players.
The thought of trying out a new hobby is exciting to me. I don’t know if I’ll be any good, but I know I enjoy music already and it can be extremely therapeutic to sing and play guitar with my husband during a long day.
It’s never too late to learn something. Even if it’s not musical!
8. Spend Time With Friends and Family.
We know you’re not a stranger to the concept that we’re made to be in community.
You tell this to your church all the time and encourage them to get connected to others. To join some sort of a small group environment.
But this is much easier to tell other people to do than to do it yourself.
It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day. You have to plan events, sermons, get coffee with people, and work on nights and weekends.
There’s a difference between being with people on ‘work-mode’ and being with the people that you don’t have to “work” to be around.
These are the people you can be honest about how you’re doing (which is vital as a pastor), who you can have game nights with, laugh with, and grieve with. Whether it’s in a small group, your family, or fellow church staff, find these people and plan time to relax and “recharge” together. Together is always better.
9. Write Something.
Writing is a skill that’s pretty essential in life. I’ve gotten by without having to do much math, but you can’t usually work any job without having some skill of written and verbal communication. It’s an important skill to have even if you’re not the next Mark Twain.
Not a great writer?
The only way to get better at anything is to just do it.
It doesn’t have to be fancy or a work of fiction. Trying keeping a journal and using it for your prayers or just write down how you are feeling that day, an experience you may have had recently, or a couple of things you’re grateful for.
You may begin to find this practice of slowing down and writing not only to be therapeutic, but it can actually give you better sleep quality as well.
10. Plan a Date Night.
If you are working at a church and/or have kiddos, it’s likely that you may not get as much time in with your spouse.
Your first ministry is to your family, so make sure to keep your marriage flourishing, you are actively nourishing it.
Here are 20 fun date ideas if you are tired of the traditional dinner and a movie.
Pick something fun that you and your spouse would both enjoy doing or trying for the first time.
Take a Next Step
The #1 barrier to church growth starts with you.
If the senior pastor, or church leaders, are not intentionally taking the time to get better, no one else will follow suit.
We know it can be difficult to know where to begin or even where to go to grow personally. That's why we developed a FREE resource for you. The personal growth plan. All of us on staff at Church Fuel use it because it's that useful.
Take some time this week to fill this out and make your personal growth plan. Because in addition to learning how to recharge on your time off, you'll need to know what to do with your time.
Get the free download by clicking here.