I recently chatted with a youth pastor who said that small group ministry was the key to the flourishing of ministry to youth in their community. The fruit of our conversation was a typology of small groups in youth ministry. Here is what we came up with:
In an accountability group, there is an agreed upon set of rules or commitments that one is seeking to live out. There may or may not be a formal group leader. The folks that participate in these groups are bonded in their common desire to live by the rules of the group because of the hope that doing so will produce change or transformation in their life. I’ve heard these groups called Covenant Discipleship groups, Fight Clubs and Life groups (rare name) in youth ministry. Typically these groups don’t have an explicit purpose of raising up a leader nor of generating new groups.
Recovery or Therapeutic Groups
In a recovery or therapeutic group, the people gather around a common goal of recovering from a traumatic life event and/or addictions. The group typically has a formal group leader that has a unique set of skills to be able to help people gain the resources and skills to heal from the trauma or addiction. These groups don’t have an explicit purpose of generating new groups. Some of them do have an explicit purpose of nurturing and raising up leaders with the skills to help the members of the group. An example of a youth ministry group in this category is Celebrate Recovery groups like Hurts, Habits and Hang-Ups.
Bible Teaching Groups
These types of groups are by far the most popular small groups in youth ministry. The group gathers, typically around age and gender affinity, for the explicit purpose of “learning” about the Bible from a group leader who teaches them lessons. The group leader typically has a conversational teaching style but can incorporate many different teaching methods (storying, object lessons, group activities, self-directed exercises outside group, etc.). Some of these groups have an explicit purpose of raising up student leaders to teach the small group. Most of these types of groups are not explicitly working to multiply. However, multiplication tends to come from a large group gathering that attracts more teenagers and thus increases the number of participants in the small group, making it necessary for the group to split and multiply. I’ve heard youth ministry folks call these groups Bible Study groups, small groups, (Insert Youth Ministry Name) groups, WORD groups, Grow groups, etc.
Holy Reading Groups
These groups are a growing trend in youth ministry. What I mean by “holy reading” is a way of reading the Bible as a whole group that allows is to be authoritative and formative for the group. Others have called this a “communal hermeneutic.” Another way of saying it is that the group is trying to find a way of reading the Bible with, as Alan Jacobs says, the “hermeneutics of love.” A holy reading of the Bible is characterized by reading the text multiple times because one believes that they should not just consume the text. They read the text with humility and doing justice to the text by searching for the truth in it. The group typically has a leader who is modeling this way of reading the scripture for the whole group. The purpose of the group is to acquire the virtues of Christ as they read and practice the scripture together. These groups typically are seeking to multiply by inviting others into the groups in order to learn from the scripture with them. I’ve heard youth workers refer to these groups as Community groups, but most who practice it simply call them small groups.
Affinity Groups & Social (fellowship) Groups
These groups typically gather around common interests that may include wanting to build friendships, explore a particular activity (biking, art, softball, paint ball, etc.). These groups typically have a leader who is organizing the gatherings. The purpose of these groups is to attract folks to the youth ministry and/or build relationships with people in the group. These groups can have the goal of multiplying, but most of the time they don’t. Leaders are raised up in these groups to take over the organizing of the gatherings.
These groups exist because of some social issue or community need. There may or may not be a leader for these groups. The purpose of the group is to work to bring funding, awareness and help to the social issue or community need that the group is seeking to remedy or alleviate. These groups can multiply within a youth ministry, but they typically build from small to large groups if they grow. I’ve heard youth workers refer to these groups as Justice groups, Freedom Fighters and Good Neighbor groups.
Questions to Consider:
How do you get your group on?
What type/s of small group/s do you subscribe to?
Is there a type of small group that you do with youth that isn’t represented here? Please describe it in the comments.