best practices

Three Secrets To Stronger Small Groups For Teens

The first high school guys' small group I led was a little awkward. My co-leader, Matt, and I spent the majority of the time talking to one another, and the guys in the group just listened. It would take until their senior year of high school for them to open up and really take control of the conversation.

By that point, the group was strong, but once the teens graduated, it was hard to stay in touch. The bond that I thought was there had faded, and many of these guys moved on from their faith.

While I shouldn't take sole responsibility for the failure or success of their faith journey, looking back, there are things my co-leader and I could have done better. Since that group, I've learned that leading a group of young people takes more than cultivating interesting conversations.

If you want stronger small groups, every leader (volunteer or paid) needs to:


When we imagine healthy small groups, we think about profound conversations and personal sharing. While sharing life is an essential element, it's critical for the groups to be centered on prayer. To get to that point, it all starts with leadership.

To grow disciples, you need to grow as one yourself. So, the big question you have to ask yourself is, "How is my prayer life?" You don't have to be a master theologian, but working out your own salvation is key. Make sure you take time to pray, not only for yourself but for the group as well. Ask the Holy Spirit to enter into the lives and open the hearts of each participant. When you pray for the group, it prepares you for deep and profound conversations.

We also have to remember to show our students how to pray. Instead of just saying a prayer, spend time helping your teens overcome the fears and anxieties of praying aloud or with a group. When the teens are confident with their prayer life, it'll invite authenticity and honesty into the conversation.


It's easy to put on a video or open a book and teach young people, but whether they receive the truth you are sharing is another question. If you want young people to open up, ask questions, and listen to what you have to say, you'll have to learn how to listen first.

As small group leaders, you don't have to ask heavy questions to get the conversation rolling; you just have to follow up with the comment, "Tell me more." After you respond with that comment, listen to what they are saying without trying to formulate a response. Empathize and affirm what you are hearing so that you can show them that you care.

When you focus on listening, you'll find better ways to respond. You want your group to trust that you have their best interests at heart, and that only comes when they believe you understand what they are saying. Don't be afraid to ask questions and dive deeper into the things that are close to their hearts.


In addition to listening to them during group sessions, it's important to get to know the teens beyond your time with them at church. While you can show up at their activities and games, you might not have the time to do that with everyone. A few ways to invest in your teens beyond group time is by getting to know their families.

As a small group leader, you need to involve parents. It starts with keeping them in the loop, reminding them that the group is meeting, and letting them know if certain topics (e.g., dating) are going to be discussed. You don't have to share every detail with parents, but keeping them connected sets them up for success at home.

Additionally, small group leaders should get to know parents to establish trust. Try inviting parents to join you one night for a small group and asking the teens to stay at home. Spend time asking parents questions, sharing a little of your life story, and building a relationship. If you make yourself accessible to parents, they'll not only open up to you but also invest more into the group. When you have parental support, the group will be able to accomplish more.

Your groups will grow stronger when you center them on prayer, learn to listen, and connect beyond group time. Don't worry about getting through the curriculum and covering all the content. The time will come for you to share truths and guide young people through Church teaching. Establish a solid relationship so that they know they are not alone in their journey and see you as a resource for their faith. With stronger groups, the Church will raise up stronger disciples to take on the world for Jesus Christ.

What other tips would you add to make small groups stronger?

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