Youth groups in your home
The importance of small Bible study groups, in part 6 of 'How to start a youth ministry from scratch'.
(For the previous articles in this series, click on the links to the right).
If you have a working, Biblical youth ministry up and running, now is a good time to start some regular mid-week Bible study groups for your young people.
These groups form the backbone of youth ministry and you should strongly encourage every teenager to attend a group for the year. It’s a great mix of bible study, social activity, accountability and fun - but on a more personal level than the main youth group gathering. The groups are user friendly, and a great place to invite friends!
My experience has been that we get more young people attending weekly Bible study groups than we get at the main weekly youth group gathering. It’s also the place where our young people invite most of their non-Christian friends. That might seem a little counter-intuitive, given that it’s a small group of young people meeting together around the Bible but I think that’s the appeal! It’s a smaller group of people and therefore somewhat less intimidating for a newcomer, it provides a more intimate and personal setting to ask questions and explore the Bible, and it’s not just for Bible study but also for sharing life together and building friendships.
What to do at a Bible study
You can organise a weekly Bible study group in any way you choose, but here’s a couple of tips:
Arrange your Bible study group around 3 components:
- Social/sharing time
- Bible study time
- Prayer time
Use these 3 components to arrange your Bible study group time roughly into thirds - let’s say 30 minutes for each component, with a total Bible study group time of 90 mins. 90 minutes is long enough to cover the essentials and short enough to not be a weekly burden on the family time of young people.
Use your social/sharing time to run an activity that helps you get to know them and for them to know each other. An example of a simple activity is to throw/pass around an item (like a ball or a cushion) and the person who throws the item gets to ask a question of the person who catches it, simple and effective. It’s even better if you can use the social/sharing time to gain insight into their thoughts on the topic for the Bible study!
Where to meet
If it’s possible, use your (the leader's) home to host the Bible study group. A home is a much more relational environment to run a Bible study and more conducive to sharing life together than a church hall or meeting room. If your home isn’t available (for space or whatever reason) then see if one of the young people in your Bible study group can host it at their house. This is an excellent option for involving parents and teaching hospitality. It’s particularly valuable for young people who don’t have Christian families or stable homes to be invited into the home of a peer and witness the love of their family. However, a church meeting room will do if that’s what you’ve got! Don’t let space prevent you from starting a weekly Bible study group, they’re way to valuable.
Who goes in which group?
As far as you are able, I think there is an advantage of starting with single gender groups for junior high age youth (years 7-9/10 in high school) and then moving the groups into mixed gender by senior high school age (years 10/11-12 in high school). I think this avoids much of the competitiveness and awkwardness between guys and girls in their junior high years and moves them towards a more mature relationship to the opposite sex in their senior high years.
I like to put all the names of our young people into a table that divides the columns into gender and the rows into school year and then use this method to work out how many young people we have for each Bible study group. Because the spread of age and gender is never consistent, the organisation of weekly Bible study groups changes from year to year. Here’s an example of the table and the method.
Just start with what you’ve got. It’d be great to have 6 groups start straight away with 5-12 people in each but the reality is that you’re just starting out so don’t expect too much. And don’t wait until you’ve got a minimum of 5 or 8 or 10 to start a group; if you’ve only got 2 young people then start a bible study with them. It’s not ideal, but you need to start somewhere, so begin with just the 3 of you and grow it from there. If you are going to run the group at one of the young people's houses, make sure their parents are around - that way, if only 1 young person turns up, you can run the Bible study with their supervision (remember your safe ministry training: meet in an open visible place and never alone).
Help your leaders run Bible studies
I think it almost goes without saying that your leaders need to be confident in running a Bible study group. They don’t have to be trained pastors, they just need to be able to: guide a group of people through a Bible study, facilitate a safe place for relationships, and be open to dialogue about the Bible. There’s plenty of excellent Bible study resources for young people and leaders available out there (I’ve listed some below) so make the most of them.
Most important is that your Bible study leaders know the value of saying this one simple phrase, “I don’t know”. Young people are in an acute phase of testing and questioning all their previously held beliefs (not necessarily rejecting them) and they need a safe place where they can ask questions, doubt, and explore the Bible and life’s mysteries without fear of being judged or rejected. A Bible study leader can do lots of good by openly saying “I don’t know” in response to difficult probing questions and a lot of harm in trying to answer questions they’ve not thought through.
So, give your leaders permission to not be the source of all Christian knowledge and either take the time explore the issue properly or defer to someone who can answer the issue with consideration.
Here’s some great resources for weekly Bible study groups:
“Leading Better Bible Studies” by Rod and Karen Morris (for training your leaders to lead a Bible study group well - highly recommended!)