By Kristie McCollister
Student ministry is hard. It often feels like it competes with so many other things in a student’s life: culture, school, extra curricular activities, friends, etc. But what we need to remember is that church (and by church, I mean the Body of Christ) offers something students don’t easily find anywhere else—authentic community.
Church offers students a place to come together to learn and grow in their faith, to wrestle with doubts and celebrate victories, to pose questions, offer answers and basically “do life” together. However, in today’s world students are wary of trusting too quickly. Too often they’ve been hurt by adults and friends who have walked out of their lives or betrayed them (ref: Hurt 2.0 by Chap Clark). So, while it can take a while to break through the barriers our students may have built up for protection, there are things we can do to help move the process along.
It’s easy to simply rely on weekly small groups within your student ministry—once a week conversations are great starting points—but if you want to move past the surface and into authenticity, it’s essential to realize the importance of connecting with your students outside the walls of the church. Here are some ways to start making those connections, especially within the small group context:
- Support students in their extra curricular activities and encourage your other students to come as well. For example, if you have a student in the school play, make it a small group outing to all go watch together.
- Plan monthly or quarterly events. It doesn’t have to be a big blow out, but something fun and not “churchy” can really help create momentum. For example, you could host a cookie-baking day or maybe a flag football tournament between different small groups—anything that is intentional, fun and offers opportunities for you and the students to interact.
- Start your small group time with an opportunity for your students to catch up on their week. One way to do this is by going around and asking for the “highs and lows” from the week. It’s a quick reference to what was good and what was bad from their week, without having to get into too much detail.
- Leverage social media to build community. For example, set up a “private” group on Facebook for your small group. Private groups are only accessible by people invited into the group and wall posts cannot be seen by anyone else. This is a great way to follow up after a small group discussion, plan an outing or just start a conversation.
- Create opportunities for service. Amazing things can happen when a group gets outside their comfort zone and has the opportunity to serve others.
These are just a few suggestions. So, how do you cultivate community in your small groups?