Tapestry of Faith: Sharing the Journey: A Small Group Ministry Program with Youth

How is doing small group ministry with youth different?

As with adult small ministry groups, before creating a small group for youth give thought to the size of the group, safety, confidentiality, and shared facilitation. In all of these areas, there are considerations specific to youth.

Size of the group. Because of the importance of keeping groups small, you may need to split up members of a youth group or religious education community. This might be stressful for youth who do not want to be separated from their friends. If you have more than one youth small group, make sure you create plenty of opportunities outside the small group ministry sessions for the entire youth community to be together. Perhaps all gather for the focus of the session and then break into small groups. Or, rotate the use of small group ministry with other curricula or programs so the group is only broken into small groups twice a month. If you choose to use small group ministry at every meeting, schedule whole group activities and publicize them well, throughout the year.

Safety. A small group ministry program should follow the safety policies of your congregation and district. These may include having a safe space for meetings, the required presence of two or more adult advisors who have had the appropriate background checks and signed a code of ethics, and the mandated reporting of harassment and abuse. Learn the safety policies from your congregation's religious educator and follow them. These policies exist not only for the safety of the youth, but also to protect advisors. If sessions will be led by a youth and an adult, be certain to include another adult advisor in the group if your policy calls for two adults to be present at all times.

Confidentiality. In most states, religious educators, Sunday school teachers, and leaders are mandated reporters. As such, if you are aware of a situation where a child or youth has been or is being abused, you are required to report the situation to the proper authorities. If someone discloses to you that they are planning to hurt someone, you are mandated to report it. Be aware of the laws of your state. Even if you are not required by the state to report such disclosures, your congregation's safety policy might require you to do so. Ask your religious educator about your congregation's policy on mandated reporting, how to deal with a youth who discloses such information, and the proper chain of communication for reporting. Often the first step for a teacher or facilitator is speaking to the minister or professional religious educator.

Shared facilitation. The opportunity to build youth leadership through shared facilitation of small groups is valuable and not to be wasted. Plan well in advance how you will incorporate youth into the facilitation role. Many youth will make fine facilitators. However, you must provide them with adequate support. You will want to have a system in place to allow youth inexperienced in facilitating a way to gain experience and grow into leadership. For a deeper discussion of shared facilitation, see the Chapter 2 section on the roles of facilitator(s) and advisor(s).