I must admit that I like eating ice cream. I like ice cream so much that I once changed sleeping assignments on a trip because teens brought me a big tub of ice cream and begged A LOT. If you’re considering taking a bribe to change room assignments, be sure to get more than just one tub of ice cream – you’ll need it. Lately, more than before, I’ve found myself at Coldstone “padding myself for an extended winter” and having a great time getting to know the teens who work there. (Note: I live is Arizona where we only have 2 seasons, “warm” and “lets cook dinner on the sidewalk”.)
About a month ago, I stopped in the ice cream shop with a new Core member. As we sat there talking, the teens who were working that day came out from behind the counter and sat with us. It didn’t take long before the conversation changed and they started telling stories and sharing their life experiences. Then it evolved to how they felt God was working in and through their lives.
What happened that day illuminated something important: Teens thirst for an opportunity to share their lives and their faith. Often I find that I am far more willing to preach than I am to listen. After all, I have lived life and teens should learn from my experience right?
The truth is teens need to hear less about my experiences and more often need me to openly listen to theirs. Then, after listening, more than anything they need me to pray with them so we both can listen for God to reveal His love and wisdom.
After our time with these teens, I started praying. How can we have small group experiences that are consistently this vibrant, honest, and Spirit-filled? What would it take for our ministry to take small groups to the next level?
Below is nothing near a perfect list of things that would help. Actually it is nothing more than a beginning.
- Know your audience. Who are the teens you are in a group with? Is this their first life night or their 51st? It is ok to start a small group with just a little “getting to know you” discussion. Ask them what their favorite movie is or why they are here. A question they can all answer will help teens relax and open up. While we are on the topic – make sure to keep your questions open ended. Try not to ask a question that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”.
- Find a connection point. We are asking a lot of our teens in small groups. It can be really awkward and uncomfortable to share your heart with a group of complete strangers. Seek out some common ground with the teens in your group. It could be sports, music, movies, fashion, game systems, etc. Then incorporate that common ground into the small group questions (when possible). For example:
- When it comes to baseball, what are some ways you show responsibility on and off the field?
- Tell me about an actor/musician who is using his or her influence to make a
difference in the world.
- How is the spiritual life like a video game?
- Have the freedom to go on an appropriate tangent. The key word is “appropriate”. For example, if a student’s dad died that week, diverging from the main topic for a brief moment is understandable. However, avoid the temptation to “chase rabbits” in your discussion, no matter how awesome the “rabbits” might seem.
- Don’t fear the awkward silence. Many times we need silence to collect our thoughts. Give teens the time they may need.
- Lean in, look them in the eye, show that you care, and that you are listening. Affirm responses. Use words like, “That’s a good comment”. Affirmation doesn’t have to happen immediately, remember what they said and use it in subsequent conversations.
- Share who you are. Your vulnerability will create an environment where they feel safe to open up themselves. Remember to be brief since small groups are for the teens, not ourselves.
- Pray. Often all we need is a moment of prayer. Be open to the Holy Spirit and where He may lead.
I hope this helps those who are new and those “seasoned” in ministry to take a look at an important part of Life Nights and to search for ways to grow. You and your teens are always in my prayers!