Inviting youth to participate in small group ministry is a good fit for several reasons:
- Youth frequently do not want a formal curriculum, yet need, and want, more than just "hang out" time. Small group ministry provides a format with a light structure and a great deal of latitude.
- The sessions focus on recognizing and examining members' knowledge and understanding in a faith community setting. The "information" or "knowledge" comes more from the participants than from an external curriculum. This model of religious education is consistent with the goals of lifespan faith development.
- Unitarian Universalist youth can easily understand small group ministry's goal of ministering to and learning from each other. The Center for Community Values says covenant groups "meet to share thoughts, feelings, life experiences through attentive listening, engaged conversation and respectful practices that create open-hearted and open-minded engagement. Covenant groups are small group ministry groups that enhance the quality of life of its members through ongoing practice of right relationships with self, others and the wider world."
Throughout the course of their faith development and in their youth groups, Unitarian Universalist youth build strong communities. They recognize that members of a community are responsible for each other. In youth worship, at conferences, in the hallways of the congregation, and through electronic social networks, Unitarian Universalist youth nurture and support each other, rejoice and mourn together, and share their lives and inner thoughts naturally. Some youth will have a prior frame of reference from their experiences with "touch groups," used at youth conferences to develop leadership. Facilitated by youth themselves, small touch groups help youth make friends out of strangers and increase a feeling of belonging.
Small group ministry provides an excellent framework for leadership development. Most youth want a greater say in what is included in their programs. The small group ministry model allows youth to take an active role in both planning and implementing sessions. Because the learning comes as much from their relationships and interactions as from the session content, the way youth are included becomes increasingly important. As a small ministry group goes forward, the youth can take on more of the responsibility for making their time together meaningful for the participants.
Small group ministry models shared leadership. Whether the youth facilitate sessions in part or wholly, they work together with their adult advisors to create a program for everyone. Youth facilitators who meet with adult small group ministry facilitators will make connections to adult leaders in the congregation. The opportunities to interact with a wide range of congregants will increase youth's sense of belonging to a faith home that truly treasures them as individuals and appreciates the gifts they have to share.
If you are considering using small group ministry with youth, be clear about your goals. Some goals might include:
- Providing a safe space for participants to tell their stories
- Offering youth a context to practice paying attention and listening to each other's needs, wants, and stories
- Acknowledging the value of each other's experiences; fostering understanding that all are "teachers" and all are "learners"
- Leadership development
- Dedicating time for reflection on how their life experiences shape their spirituality and the persons they become
- Building appreciation for both what they have in common and how they differ.