Student-Led Small Groups
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Student-Led Small Groups

Is your model or philosophy of youth ministry structured to care for the wounded souls of today's youth?

I call this generation the "walking wounded" in search of the family they never had. Our young people have issues to deal with daily that many of us never had to face. Is your model or philosophy of youth ministry structured to care for these dear wounded souls?

There is a dramatic shift going on in youth ministry. We are transitioning from a program based, adult driven, personality-centered model of ministry to a relational model that incorporates student leaders, cell groups and long extended sets of meaningful, effective worship.

Cell-group youth ministries have been springing up all over the globe. There's a youth ministry in Bogata, Columbia (the cocaine capitol of the world) that has over 13,000 youth in student cell groups. I met one of their cell leaders, a 17-year-old girl. Speaking through an interpreter, she said that in four years her cell had multiplied 18 times. In South Africa, I met a 22-year-old youth worker who has more than 75 youth cells in his ministry. It is no longer uncommon in America to see 20, 50 or 100 cells.

How Cells Work

There are two primary focuses of student-led cell groups:

1. Evangelism - Equipped with well-planned strategies, student leaders reach out to their well-defined circle of friends. The outreach cell includes three types of students: Seekers, Hurting or New Believers, and Healthy Christians. In each cell, there is a student leader, a student co-leader, and a key adult to help ensure the success of the cell.

2. Leadership development and edification - The primary role of adult youth workers and volunteers is to pour their lives into the student leaders, not every member. The adults encourage, equip, hold accountable, mentor, disciple, and edify the student leaders. The student leaders, in turn, work with their cells.

Cell groups reach out to youth in the context of love, care, and support. In a world that is void of meaningful relationships, kids are drawn to Christ by their peers, and in the group they can experience, often for the first time, unconditional love…the love of Jesus.

Can youth ministries tailor their cells to their own particular needs? They can, to a point, but there are a few things I believe cell-group youth ministries must do in order to be successful:

1. Student-led. This is a must! Adults must give teens the responsibility of leadership while mentoring, encouraging, teaching, and, "yes," allowing them to fail.

2. Meet In Homes. There is something special, intimate, and safe about meeting in different homes each week. It makes more sense and is easier for kids to attend meetings in homes that they are probably visiting on a regular basis anyway.

3. Even mix of spiritual maturity. If there isn't a good balance of kids, the group cannot work properly. The group needs non-Christians, or it becomes a "holy huddle." The right combination of non-Christians, new Christians, and mature Christians will cause a unique dynamic. The lost find new life in Christ, the hurting believers grasp hope, and the mature Christians realize, "God can use me!"

4. Multiply. If the cell does not multiply by the time it reaches 15 members, the numbers will actually start to decline as students observe how much more unmanageable the group has become with over 15 of their peers in it.

Some Practical "How To"

Has God been preparing you to transition from a program-based, entertainment-oriented, adult driven youth ministry to a relational, student led cell model? Here are some practical suggestions to help you along that path:

Pray. Seek the mind of God. Is God really calling you to a cell model?

Get pastoral backing. Youth workers too often make the mistake of being "lone rangers." If you have your leadership's blessing, you will be planted on firm ground.

Do your homework. The cell-group is radically different from most methods of ministry. You must have a solid game plan in place and be prepared to manage the growth or it can quickly unravel (our resources at can help).

Clearly communicate your vision and the transition—model "cell life." Enter into sincere, meaningful relationships with your potential student leaders and adults. Learn together what true Christian community is.

Carefully select and equip student leaders. Pray for your start-up leaders and train them in all areas of cell strategy. Remember, you cannot grow beyond your ability to produce new leaders.

Launch a prototype group. After four weeks of training "go live." Have your leaders start to bring in their lost or hurting friends. Quickly work out the bugs in this first cell.

Allow students to make mistakes. Keep your student leaders from drowning, but let them learn to swim.

Model a passion for the lost. There's nothing more energizing for students than leading their peers to Christ. But you must also model that same passion. Lead by example.

Raise the standard. Expect the best from your student leaders and they will rise to the occasion.

Help them succeed. Weekly, ongoing encouragement, discipleship, and equipping will further their leadership potential and longevity.

It will take longer than you think. Allow two to three years to restructure your ministry. One youth worker I know failed two years in a row to get a cell ministry going but the third year produced more than 40 cell groups!

I have never seen a more capable group of Christian young people than this generation. God is raising them up. Isaiah 43:18-19 says: "Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?" (NIV)

We as youth pastors need to rethink our models of ministry. It is vital that we restructure our ministries and partner with our students to evangelize and disciple their peers. The same Holy Spirit that is in the adults in the ministry also lives in and through the Christian students under our care. It has been said, "While they may be young, the Holy Spirit in them is no child".

Is God calling you to equip this generation of youth to minister to their peers? If so, take a long prayerful look at what God is doing worldwide with this generation of youth and the cell group movement.

Ted Stump is the founder and director of High Impact Ministries. He holds a Master of Divinity from Columbia Biblical Seminary. Ted's ministry experience includes study and travel with Dr. Ralph Neighbour Jr., Josh McDowell, and evangelist John Guest. Ted serves as a national consultant to churches and youth organizations on developing and implementing student cell groups. Feel free contact Ted here or visit our web site at .

The Outreach Cell Format

Students meet in different homes each week or every other week. Cells range in size from three to 15 students. When the groups reach 15, they multiply into two cells. A cell meeting lasts about 90 minutes. The format is as follows:

Food (15 minutes). This allows the students time to reconnect, relax, and get some chit-chat out of the way.

Ice Breaker (10 minutes). This draws the group together, especially if there are visitors present. It will also help leaders gauge the group's emotional condition.

Vision statement (5 minutes). Each week several key points are shared to further the vision of the cell and inform any newcomers what they can expect from the group.

Cell topic (45 minutes).

Gospel presentation, ministry time, prayer (15 minutes).

A Leadership Cell Format

Student leaders and their adult mentors gather weekly for training, equipping, strategizing, and learning how to further disciple students in the cells. Student leaders and adults typically meet in the youth worker's home. The format is different than an outreach cell:


Ice Breaker. Much more in-depth, vulnerable, and revealing.

Probing questions. Here's where everybody gets honest about their walks.

Worship (20 to 30 minutes).

Message. A hard-hitting message with a twofold purpose: 1) To further disciple student leaders; 2) To apply Scripture to student's weekly ministry in the outreach cells.

Prayer. Focused prayer for student leader's concerns and for their non-Christian and Christian friends.


Cell equipping/strategizing. Assess current ministry, work through any questions and concerns, and further training.

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