How Cell Groups Rescued My Youth Ministry

Our ministry wasn't going well, the group was unhealthy and the students weren't connecting. Then, I tried cell groups.

My first job as a paid youth pastor was in a church of about 250 people. On a good youth group night we had 15 kids. On a bad night, we had three or none, depending on which key kids had offended each other that week. It's humiliating to fit your entire youth group in a Chevy Sprint and have one seat belt left over.

Our first retreat was truly an ordeal. Several kids refused to take part in an encouragement session because, in their words, "I have nothing nice to say." The day after this debacle was over, I scrawled in my day planner a list of pros and cons about the retreat. The only pro I could come up with was "No loss of life."

The group was unhealthy, to say the least.

Inside, I was haunted by feelings similar to those I have when I see my dad exercising in a track suit and dress shoes. Something just didn't fit. My ministry didn't connect with the kids. In frustration, I searched out anything I could find on the changing nature of youth culture. When I resurfaced from this obsession, I took a step back. I saw two key principles.

1. "Who" is more important than "what." Youth ministry has its natural wonders. Here's one of them: You schedule, plan, and promote an event way in advance. Then, on the night of the event, 15-year-old Susie invites a few people over for a video, and she attracts twice as many kids as you do.

Teenagers are more concerned that someone from their friendship cluster attends the event than that you got your bulletin announcement in on time. The bottom line: If they come, it's usually because someone who'll be there cares about them.

2. Friendships are the big attraction. The most important thing to teenagers today is not family, success, or comfort—it's friendships. Survey after survey confirms ...

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