The 3 Most Important Ways Your Church Can Disciple Children

The 3 Most Important Ways Your Church Can Disciple Children

As a church leader, discipling children is challenging.

You have one significant roadblock you have to overcome: Time.

Think about it.

How much time does your church spend discipling children?

Do you provide programs or Bible studies?

Does your staff or volunteers spend one-on-one time discipling students?

Make an honest evaluation of the amount of time your church directly influences children.

Is it one hour per week?

Do you offer 2–3 hours of training?

Regardless of how much time you spend, it fails in comparison to the amount of time children spend with their families during the week.

My intention in telling you this isn't to smash your hopes against the rocks. Think of what I’m saying more like waving smelling salts under your nose to wake you up to the reality your church faces when it comes passing the torch of faith to the next generation.

Does this mean you shouldn’t provide programs or Bible studies for children?

Nope. That’s not the case at all.

The point I want to stress is that you should view the programs you offer as support to parents—not a replacement.

Here’s the good news:

There’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

You won’t need to make significant changes in your church to empower parents and guardians to become disciple-makers in their home.

In this post, I’m going to share with you three overlooked ways you can lead parents to disciple their children. What I’m going to share isn’t necessarily revolutionary. But it will help you to connect the dots.

Here we go!

#1. Lead parents and guardians to live for Jesus

Discipling children doesn’t begin with children.

Discipling children begins with their parents and guardians.

Can you influence a child for Christ?

Absolutely.

But as a church leader, it’s difficult to disciple children if their parents or guardians are not committed to Jesus.

Here’s the deal:

As you lead parents to live for Jesus, then they’ll be able to guide their children to live for him.

Parents have everything they need to disciple their children.

God gives them the grace and power they need to fulfill their calling as a parent.

In writing to the church at Corinth, Paul had these encouraging words to share:

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9).

In Christ, parents receive the power they need to lead their family to live and love like Jesus.

Do they need specialized training?

No. But it's helpful for parents to read books, attend parenting conferences or seminars, and seek help.

Are there certain “things” parents should do?

Sure. But it’s not as tricky as you probably think it is.

What’s the bottom line?

The most significant influence in the life of a child is their parents and who they are as a Christian.

Before parents can lead their children to follow Jesus, you must lead parents to drink from the wells of God's grace first.

#2. Help parents to talk about their faith

Life as a Christian isn’t a to-do list—it’s a lifestyle.

It’s who we are and what we do.

In time, our faith in Christ will lead us to live like Christ.

The holds true for discipling children.

What does this mean for church leaders?

It means you need to help parents see that faith is more than participating in a worship service. From the time we wake up in the morning to the moment we go to bed at night, our devotion to Jesus influences what we believe, how we live, and how we parent.

Practically speaking, for parents, here’s what I’m talking about:

“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deut 6:6–9).

From this one passage, you can see that discipling children is more than what your church can offer during a weekday or weekend worship service. Discipleship mostly takes place in the home.

As a church leader, encourage parents and guardians to make the most of their everyday life.

During the day, families have several natural times they can talk about their faith, including:

      1. During dinner
      1. Before bedtime
      1. On the road
    1. One-on-one time

Let’s take a look at these in detail.

During dinner, encourage families to give thanks to God for their food (1 Tim. 4:5). After a prayer of thanksgiving, challenge parents to make it a priority to talk about their kids’ days and find ways they can connect conversations back to Christ.

Before bedtime is a natural time parents can share their faith and encourage their children. If you missed a dinnertime opportunity to talk and pray, encourage parents to pray for their children and ask them specifically what they can pray for.

Do parents drive their kids to school? They can redeem a portion of this time by talking with their kiddos in the car.

Another helpful way parents can engage their children is by planning one-on-one time with their kids. By taking their children out for a treat, lunch, or whatever, parents will have plenty of time to ask questions and listen to what they have to say.

There are plenty of opportunities for parents and guardians during the day. But these few suggestions will help you to lead parents to engage their children at key moments.

#3. Equip parents to read the Bible

Over the years, there are several common ways churches have reached out to children:

  • Sunday school
  • Vacation Bible study
  • Youth groups

As I mentioned above, these programs—and others—are helpful, and they are a tremendous support for parents. However, to disciple children, you have to equip parents and guardians to become disciple-makers in their home.

There are several resources available to help you do this. But there’s a straightforward discipleship hack any parent can use regardless of how long he or she has been following Jesus.

This tip doesn’t require building an extensive library, obtaining a seminary degree, or attending a conference.

The only thing parents will need is a Bible, time, and staying one step ahead.

Here’s the big idea:

Encourage parents to read the Bible with their family, and ask three simple questions.

      1. What did the Bible say?
      1. What does it mean?
    1. How does this change me?

Let me break this down.

With the first question, the goal is to lead children to think about what they just read. Think “reading comprehension.” At this point, encourage parents not to worry about talking about the meaning of the text. The only thing they need to focus on is helping their children understand what was written.

Pro tip: Parents can crank this up a notch by helping their children make relevant cross-references in the Bible. Doing this will help children to see that every individual book of the Bible ties into one big story of redemption.

After kids know what the Bible says, ask the second question to help them understand what it means. For some portions of the Bible, such as the Historical Books like Joshua and Ruth, you may not be able to pull out a meaning per se. But for other books of the Bible, such as the Prophetic Books (Isaiah) and the Epistles (1 Corinthians), you’ll be able to pull out a ton of meaning.

Take your time. Don’t feel a need to rush this question.

Pro tip: Parents can read ahead to identify key themes in the passage, and potential questions children may ask. Staying one step ahead is the name of the game.

Finally, with the last question, the big idea is to help children apply what was read and discussed. Again, there will be times when you won’t have anything earth-shattering to share, and that’s okay.

Pro tip: Encourage parents to identify one idea their family can focus on during the day or throughout the week. They’ll be surprised by how often this will come up during that time.

Champion parents and the church

Parents and guardians are the best people for the job of discipling their children.

As you challenge parents to fulfill their call as disciple-makers, don’t forget to let them know that your church is there to support and equip them to lead their family well. Let parents know they can reach out to a pastor, elder or deacon, or someone in your church they can learn from

How to Build a Healthy Small Group Ministry

How to Build a Healthy Small Group Ministry

Not everyone in your church is in a small group.

It’s possible for 100 percent of your church to be in a small group.

But this isn’t necessarily a good goal to shoot for.

Think about it.

If 100 percent of your church is in a small group, then that indicates your church isn't experiencing new growth. If you consistently welcome first-time guests and new members, then everyone in your church will not be in a small group. But this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be.

In general, in the life of your church, you'll observe these patterns:

  1. New people visit your church
  2. New people commit to your church as members
  3. New people commit to small groups
  4. Current small group participants stop attending

Since your church will experience these patterns, you should expect to see increases and decreases in your small group attendance.

But here’s the million dollar question:

How many people in your church should be in a small group?

There’s no hard rule to this answer.

Many different church leaders suggest different metrics.

As a general rule of thumb, it’s ideal to aim for 75 percent of your church to be in a small group.

If you have this many people currently in small groups, this doesn’t mean your work is done.

Far from it.

If your church prioritizes small groups, you will need to consistently promote them to your church. Remember, new people will visit your church and people currently in your small groups will stop attending at some point. So, if you don’t promote your small groups, then you can expect attendance to decline.   

Regardless if you’re just getting started or if your small group participation has plateaued or declined, you need to have a plan in place to encourage more people to get involved.

In this post, I want to help you create a plan for your church to increase your small group attendance.

We’re going to take a look at two big topics:

  • 6 reasons why people don’t join small groups
  • 6 surefire ways to increase your small group participation

Let’s dig in!

6 reasons why people don’t join small groups

Small groups don’t always work.

Before you promote your small groups, you need to know why people usually don’t join one.

When you’re aware of the challenges, you’ll be better able to address them and lead people to sign up. Besides, not every

Here’s what you should expect to be up against.

#1 – People aren't aware of your small groups

Does everyone in your church know about small groups?

Don’t expect people to participate if they don’t know what’s going on.

From first-time guests to new, regular attenders, there’s a variety of people who may not be aware of your small group ministry.

What is more, people are attending worship services less often. Since churchgoers are attending worship services less frequently, this means you will have to talk about your small group more than a couple of times a year.

#2 – They don't think they're important

Do people in your church value small groups?

Have they captured a vision for biblical community?

Is biblical community a value embraced by your church’s leadership and staff?

When you struggle to lead people to sign up for small groups, your problem may not necessarily be a lack of promotion. The culture of your church may not be ready to support a small group ministry.

Never assume everyone in your church has the same beliefs and values. Everyone striving to live and love like Jesus is at a different place in their journey, and they may not yet grasp how important Christian community is to their spiritual well-being.

#3 – Lack of time

Families in your church and community are busy.

Their schedules are crowded with work, school activities, and simply, parenting. In a recent survey, it was found that parents spend an average of 27 hours per week on basic family stuff, like cooking, cleaning, and commuting.

Practically speaking, people in your church don’t have a lot of free time.

It’s a big mistake to assume parents or guardians will drop everything, right this moment, when you promote small groups. There are a variety of reasons why families in your church are too busy to do anything. Find out what’s causing their schedules to be jam-packed, and speak directly into that instead of thinking they just don’t care.

Speaking of a lack of time, your church may be unintentionally leading people to stumble and fall before they even commit to joining a small group, which brings me to my next point.

#4 – Too many programs

How many programs, events, and ministries do you offer adults in your church?

If you offer more than one program, you could be at fault for not growing your small group ministry.

Here’s the deal:

Every program in your church competes for the time of your church members.

Everyone in your church faces the same limitation with time: 24/7/365.

Once they (or you) spend your time doing anything, that time is gone. So, if your church members are tied up with other programs and ministries in your church, then they won’t have the time to join a small group.

I’ll hit on this more below, but there’s a chance you’ll need to simplify your church’s calendar by reducing some ministries in order to build other ministries.

#5 – They’re afraid

A small percentage of people in your church will avoid small groups like the plague.

According to one study, 17 percent of adults in Western cultures fear intimacy and avoid close relationships. Don’t be surprised if some people in your church possess a similar fear.

The reasons why people fear relationships will differ.

Fight the temptation to address everyone’s fear the same. It’s a good idea to address common fears in your sermons or at other times. But strive to counsel people one-on-one to help them overcome their fears.

#6 – They’re not sure what to do with their children

One big hurdle you have to help parents cross is what they’ll do with their children.

Will they need to provide their own childcare?

Will the small group provide childcare?

Will their children be in the same room during discussions?

The biggest challenge parents face will be childcare. There are three ideal small group childcare options. Regardless of how your church’s small groups takes care of children, be sure to share this with parents to help them prepare.

Your church may not face every one of these challenges.

Take the time to pray through what roadblocks your church will face in promoting your small group ministry. As you work on addressing these hurdles, you’ll also be ready to promote your small groups, which leads me to the next point.

6 surefire ways to increase your small group participation

I have some good news and bad news to share with you about building your small group ministry. Since I want to end on a positive note, let’s get the bad news out of the way first.

Here it is:

You cannot rely on promotional tactics alone to build your small group ministry.

If you only talk about small groups, you won’t be able to build a life-giving small group ministry. To do this, you need to have a supportive church culture that embraces and values biblical community.

What’s the good news?

It’s never too late to create a church culture that supports biblical community and small groups.

To help you get started, I’d like to share two points below (prayer and culture) that will help you build a church culture that embraces biblical community. Afterward, I’m going to share four promotional tactics you can use to increase small group participation.

#1 – Lead with prayer

Small groups in your church are so much more than just another program.

Small groups can be a catalyst of change in people’s lives. They can help people live out their faith in Christian community and build relationships with other church members. Small groups can also serve as a safe place for individuals to share their struggles.

The building blocks of anything your church sets out to accomplish is prayer. Prayer is the engine that runs your church. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, prayer is “… the powerhouse of [the] church.”

You can put together an efficient small group ministry.

You can launch a compelling campaign to encourage more people to sign up.

But if you don’t pray for the spiritual growth and well-being of your people, then don’t be surprised if your efforts only provide short-term results and don’t lead to lasting change.

God is at work in your church.

He's changing people into the image and likeness of Jesus.

He's the only one who can truly help your church members prioritize their spiritual growth.

As you promote your small groups, pray for God to work in the lives of your church members and build a life-giving Christian community.

Here are some prayers from the Bible for your church:

Ephesians 4:1–3 (ESV):

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Philippians 1:9–11 (ESV):

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

#2 – Create a culture of community

There’s one key component to leading people to participate in your small groups:

Building a church culture that values Christian community.

Regardless if your church is just getting ready to promote small groups or if you’re looking for ways to boost your small group participation, you have to focus on your church’s culture while you focus on promoting small groups.

Here’s the deal:

It will take more than a program or a flashy marketing campaign to grow your small groups.

You need to build a church culture that values biblical community and encourages church members to make it a priority to participate in small groups. Said another way, you want your church to value small groups as an essential part of their life—not just as another program.

You’re probably thinking:

Does this mean I can’t promote small groups until the church culture is ready?

The answer to this question is both yes and no.

Changing the culture of your church takes time.

As you teach your church about the importance of biblical community, know that it can take months or years to see significant changes take place.

During this time, yes, you want to continue to promote your small groups. As you do so, you also want to focus on building a church culture that readily embraces community.

Here are three ways you can turn the tide in your church:

#1 – Make it a priority

Prioritize small groups in your church by simplifying your church’s ministries.

Remember, every program, ministry, and event in your church competes with each other and for the time of your church members. To prioritize small groups, you need to take an honest look at your church’s calendar to see if you can eliminate any activity to create more margin in the life of your church to participate in small groups.

#2 – Preach and teach about biblical community

Do you know how you can change the heart of your church?

You don’t.

That’s God’s work.

How does God change people?

One of the big ways God shapes and molds you and your church is through the Bible.

Make it a priority to preach or teach about biblical community.

Here are a couple of related themes from the Bible you can teach:

Biblical community

In the Bible, the church is often referred to as a body (1 Cor. 12).

In a real, spiritual sense, everyone who places his or her faith in Jesus Christ is connected with each other like the individual parts of a body are joined together.

As you preach about biblical community, show your church how small groups help build relationships and this sense of interdependence.

It’s important for everyone to gather together for worship. But it’s equally as important for your church members to live life together throughout the rest of the week.

The Trinity

You are made in the image of God.

A big part about being made in God’s image is community.

You see, God is one God who exists as three Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in perfect, eternal community. Since we are created in God’s image, we are created to be in community with each other—not to live a life of isolation.

With your community groups, strive to create a safe, healthy, and meaningful way for people to connect with other Christians.

Alright, with these two foundational pillars in place, let’s turn our attention to promotional tactics.

#3 – Lead by example

Are you involved with a small group?

Do your staff members, elders or deacons, or key leaders participate in a small group?

It can be difficult for you and your church’s staff to join a small group. But leading by example is essential to encouraging your church to participate in small groups.

Don’t expect your church members to do something you’re not doing yourself.

#4 – Hold a small group event

Depending on your church’s calendar, hold a small group event 1 to 2 times per year.

Here are two common names for these types of events:

  • Small Group Fair
  • Connection Event

Regardless of what you call it, your goal is to host an event to focus on promoting your small groups and to encourage people to sign up on the spot.

When you host such an event, here are the three things you’ll need to do:

  • Preach an abbreviated sermon
  • Have small group leaders available
  • Provide a way for people to sign up

During a connection event, consider preaching an abbreviated sermon on biblical community. Talk about the benefits of living in community with other Christians. Share stories of life-transformation in your church. Let people know how important small groups are to the well-being of your church.

At the end of your worship service, be sure to have small group leaders available. During these events, you’re encouraging people who are not in a small group to join one. Don’t treat this as a hard sale where someone has to “join now.” Rather, encourage your small group leaders to ask questions, listen, and strike up a casual conversation.

Finally, make sure you provide a way for people to sign up. You can get away with a clipboard and paper or you can position tablets in your foyer for people to access your church’s website online to sign up. Either way, make it easy for people to provide their information.

There’s one more facet to connection events I want to address next.

#5 – Short-term small group campaigns

One big concern people have is committing to a long-term group.

Remember, the people you want in small groups have a jam-packed schedule. They don’t have much wiggle room or emotional bandwidth to simply get involved with a small group.

To help people overcome this challenge, many churches have had success with short-term small group campaigns.

The concept is pretty self-explanatory.

But here’s the big idea:

At key times during the year, promote short-term small groups people can join for 3–6 weeks.

This timeframe isn’t a hard rule, and we don’t have data saying whether it’s best to go with 3 weeks or 6 weeks or more. The main thing you want to focus on is making it super easy for people new to small groups to commit, which is why I lean toward having groups that meet for 3–4 weeks.

The topic you cover doesn’t really matter. What matters is giving new people a taste of community, an opportunity to meet new people, and a chance to learn more about your church.

When promoting these groups, consider these two key times:

  • Fall
  • Winter

Many people in your church and community build their schedule around  their kids’ school schedules. By launching small groups in the fall (September) or winter (January), you can align with the time at which  parents or guardians are getting back into a rhythm with school and extracurricular activities.

#6 – Equip your small group leaders

You need more than a warm body to serve as a small group leader.

You need someone who desires to lead and has an ability to facilitate conversations.

Whoever leads your small groups, you’ll need to equip him or her for success.

Here are three ways you can equip your small group leaders:

  1. Training
  2. Resources
  3. Outreach

Don’t assume your small group leaders know what you know or believe what your church believes. I’m not saying you have to be on the lookout for wolves in your midst. But I am suggesting that everyone is probably not on the same page, and that’s okay and to be expected.

As a church leader, your job is to provide training.

When it comes to training your small group leaders, you can:

  • Provide one-day training
  • Offer online classes
  • Purchase books
  • Offer one-on-one coaching or group sessions

There’s more than one way you can train your leaders. Think through what they need to know, and make sure you’re providing them with the training they need to succeed in their position.

What is more, remember that your small group leaders are volunteers and that their time is limited. Make it easy for your leaders by providing them with the resources they need to lead their groups well.

For example, if your church provides sermon-based small groups, be sure to provide the questions your small group leaders need ahead of time.

With the questions you provide, consider including a few suggested answers or responses. By supplying this information, you’ll set up your leaders to focus on facilitating a conversation—not spending a few hours in a Bible study getting ready.

Finally, help your small group leaders with outreach.

I’m not talking about asking them to go door-to-door in their neighborhood to pass out tracts. There’s nothing wrong with this. But that’s not what I have in mind.

Help your small group leaders to identify new people in your church, such as first-time guests, and to strike up a conversation with them. They  can then invite someone new to their group or encourage them to join a different group if it’s a better fit.

What is more, following up with individual small group participants is huge, and this is something that’s usually overlooked. By following up with casual members, your small group leaders can encourage more people to participate and experience the benefits of community.

Provide your small group leaders with the resources they need to keep track of their small group members, and to follow up with them during the week. In many ways, your small group leaders can serve like mini-pastors under your care and direction.

Ready to build your small group ministry?

There’s a lot to digest in this post.

Take the time to prayerfully think through the challenges you’ll face, build a church culture that values biblical community, and make sure everyone in your church hears about your small groups more than once.

And while reading these three points doesn’t take too much time, be prepared to roll up your sleeves, pray, and get to work.

Your Student Ministry is Hurting Your Church: 3 Signs

Your Student Ministry is Hurting Your Church: 3 Signs

Every ministry in your church has a life cycle.

There are highs and lows.

There will be victories and challenges.

There will be times when you need to stop a ministry, and there are other times when you’ll only need to make a few adjustments. This is the nature of life in the church.

Your student ministry is one part of your church you’ll need to monitor regularly. I’m not saying you need to do this because you can’t trust student pastors or teens. That’s not the case at all.

But here’s the deal:

Life for teens is continually changing, and how well your church adapts to these changes will determine whether your student ministry is helping or hurting your church.

Today, I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of student ministry by saying what you should or shouldn’t do. Instead, I’d like to share three warning signs of a hurting student ministry. 

#1 – Teens are disconnected from your church

Keeping your student ministry connected to your church is difficult.

You’ll face at least two distinct challenges:

  1. Maintaining alignment
  2. Keeping your teens connected

As with any ministry in your church, maintaining alignment requires ongoing maintenance.

Every ministry in your church—including your student ministry—will naturally drift toward misalignment. Said another way, your student ministry will float off course and pursue its own purpose separate from the church’s mission.

I’m not saying student ministers are evil.

What I’m trying to say is that you have to make sure your student ministry is supporting your church—not working against it.  

This is just the nature of creating church alignment with any ministry.

Here are some ways to align your student ministry:

  • Ensure the vision of your student ministry supports your church’s vision
  • Regularly interact with your staff and volunteers
  • Hold your staff and volunteers accountable
  • Require a church leader (elder, deacon, etc.) to support your student ministry

There are many more ways you can maintain alignment, but here’s the big idea:

Make sure your student ministry leadership isn’t isolated.

Building a strong relationship with your staff and volunteers will not only keep your student ministry in alignment, but it will also develop better relationships.

The second challenge you’ll face is keeping teens connected to your church.

I’ll be honest:

This is easier said than done.

Here’s why:

In many churches (maybe yours?), during your weekend worship service or mid-week service, students are led to participate in different programs separate from their parents.

This reality can make it really difficult to connect teens to your church—not just your student ministry. There’s a big difference between the two.

Thankfully, you don’t have to throw the baby (student ministry) out with the bathwater.

Based on research conducted by The Barna Group, in stemming the tide of young people leaving the church, they discovered the following tactics to be helpful:

  • Prioritize discipleship
  • Promote church-wide relationships
  • Encourage greater commitment (e.g., volunteers)
  • Offer one-on-one mentoring
  • Sponsor teens

These are just a few ideas, but here are the two big things you should aim for:

  1. Help teens build relationships with people in different age groups
  2. Challenge teens to use their gifts in the church

This last point leads us to the next warning sign.

#2 – Teens have little (to no) expectations

What do you expect of the teenagers in your church?

Do you expect them to be active participants in your church community or to sit on the sidelines?

If you don’t expect much from the teens in your church, then don’t be surprised if they live up to your expectations.

Here’s the deal:

As a church, not setting high-expectations for your teens is like shooting yourself in the foot—you’re impeding the process of God’s work.

The teens in your church can play a vital role in the work of your church, and I’m not just talking about manual labor, either. There are many ways teens can participate in God’s work:

  • Music
  • Announcements
  • Tech and sound
  • Ushers
  • Greeters
  • Leading children’s ministry
  • Social media
  • Tech support
  • Outreach

Instead of treating teens like passive participants, cast a big vision for them to pursue. Help them to explore God’s call on their life and to understand the potential He sees in them. Challenge teens to live and love like Jesus—today.

In the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy:

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in life, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).

As you challenge the teens in your church, you’ll remove the shackles holding them back from being a driving force for good work and God’s glory.

#3 – Parents are treated as enemies

What is the relationship like between your student ministry and parents?

Does your student ministry treat parents like allies or enemies?

I’m using hyperbole, but here’s the gist of what I’m saying:

Your student ministry will hurt your church if it operates independently from parents.

I’m not saying you can never run events or programs without parents. But what I’m suggesting is that your student ministry should have a two-pronged approach:

  1. Invest in teens
  2. Invest in parents

Above, I talked about investing in teens by focusing on relationship-building and discipleship.

When it comes to investing in parents, three things come to mind:

  • See parents as teammates
  • Challenge parents to lead their children
  • Equip parents

Before you can invest in parents, you have to see them as a teammate, and there are a few reasons why this is the case.

First, the Bible lets us know that parents are considered the spiritual leaders of their children (Gen. 18:19; Deut. 6:1–9; Eph. 6:4). But this isn’t only about biblical precedence. This also has to do with being practical.

Think about it.

How much one-on-one time can you realistically spend with teens in your church?

Is it one hour?

Is it 2–3 three hours?

There are 168 hours in every week, and you’ll never be able to match the amount of time teens spend at home and with their parents or guardians. It’s just not possible.

Based on a variety of studies, I understand many Christian parents may not be actively leading their children to embrace Jesus. But this isn’t a reason to shun parents. Instead, this is a reason to challenge them to lead their children.

But how can you do this?

In your student ministry, strive to equip parents.

To do this, you may have to integrate your student ministry with other facets of your church life to make sure everyone is aligned.

You’ll also want to consider providing parental resources and biblical training.

In the beginning, I mentioned that life for teens is in flux. The challenges teens face today are not the same as the challenges parents once faced.

To help parents navigate these challenges, it’s ideal to equip them with biblical resources.

Here are some ways you can support parents in your church:

  • Build relationships with parents
  • Address parental topics in sermons
  • Provide discounted parental books
  • Recommend helpful parenting articles
  • Host seminars
  • Provide parental Sunday school or small groups

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a good launching pad to start.

Is your student ministry hurting your church?

There you have it.

Three warning signs your student ministry is hurting your church:

  1. It’s disconnected
  2. Teens have little (to no) expectations
  3. Parents are treated as enemies

Think of these signs like a check engine light in your car.

Take a moment to diagnosis your church, see if anything is causing a problem, and make the adjustments you need to create a life-giving student ministry.

Recharge on Your Time Off: 10 Ways

Recharge on Your Time Off: 10 Ways

As a pastor, it seems like the work never stops. Events happen after hours, you’re planning, attending meetings, making visits, and many of you side hustle when you can find the time to in your busy schedules.

We know you work incredibly hard to ensure the health and growth of your church.

But we believe that there is a reason God created rest.

He didn’t need to. He is beyond physical limitations.

But he did.

We’re not completely sure why, but we have a hunch it was to be an example to us. To let us know that we constantly need to come back to Him. Because all this hard work will be a hamster-wheel effect without regularly finding physical and spiritual rest.

And we need this daily, weekly, and annually.

So, let’s walk through 10 ways you can recharge on your time off.

1. Plan Big and Small Breaks.

In the same way you add work events and meetings to your calendar when you’re working, be sure to add in non-work events for when you’re off.

Scheduling in time to rest and recharge helps you remember and hold yourself accountable for doing it. See a free 30-minute gap? Schedule a walk around the lake or a time to read a book. Have an hour? Add a non-work related lunch meeting with a friend to your calendar. Having this downtime on your calendar gives you something to look forward to.

If you’re looking forward to a big vacation or sabbatical, add it to your calendar and set a countdown. The Momentum browser extension for Chrome helps eliminate distractions on your new tab page and also has a countdown widget. Apps like Countdown Star (iOS) or Countdown Days (Android) allow you to keep a countdown on your smartphone.

2. Read a Book.

When you can’t fly away to spend time on an island far away, losing yourself in a good story is the next best thing.

Studies have shown that reading reduces stress, enhances your imagination, and even helps you sleep better. Pastors read the Bible and theology books often, which is great of course, but when is the last time you read something else—purely for fun? A self-improvement, humor, or fiction book?

There are a lot of good options out there, including Christian fiction. We recommend a series by C.S. Lewis and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

3. Laugh.

There are a lot of everyday moments to make us laugh (or make us cry, to be honest) but why not use your time off to let loose and laugh on purpose?

It turns out there’s some truth to the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Laughing has numerous health benefits. It can reduce stress hormones, stimulate organs, and relieve pain. A 2017 study found that patients who listened to CDs of comic shows over a period of eight weeks saw a decrease in blood pressure.

Have we convinced you to recharge with some humor? Check out K-LOVE’s list of top Christian comedians.

4. Get Good Sleep.

We don’t need to convince you that sleep is a good thing. You know that, even if you don't get enough of it. We don’t need to convince you that the “after church on Sunday nap” is the best nap there is. Everyone knows that.

Getting some sleep is one of the best ways to recharge, so when you have time off, use that time to truly be “off.” Take that time to practice waking up and going to bed at the same time every day, which has some real benefits.

You can use a pen-and-paper sleep log to track your sleeping patterns. The Power Nap app helps you take effective, grogginess-free naps and the Sleep Cycle app analyzes your sleep patterns and wakes you up in the lightest sleep phases (also reducing grogginess). If you struggle with pressing the snooze button too many times, the Kiwake alarm clock app can help with that.

5. Step Outside.

Psalm 96:11-12 says, “ Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea and all that fills it resound. Let the fields and everything in them celebrate. Then all the trees of the forest will shout for joy…”

As created beings, we go through a lot in our lives on Earth. But gazing at the beauty of the One who made our bodies and minds is a great way to recharge. His amazing work is all around us.

Rent a bike and ride it around your city. Many cities have bike trails designed specifically for this. Check out the local schedule of outdoor festivals. Commit to walking for 20 minutes on the beach or in the park. Find any way to relax and recharge outdoors—engaging with nature is good for you!

6. Explore Your City.

There is a reason your are pastoring or are on staff at your church. You’ve committed to being a part of your city for a time, whether short or long-term.

That means you are hopefully a fan of your city or God has called you there, even if it isn’t your favorite place.

The greatest cure for cynicism is thankfulness. And if you’re not cynical or unhappy about your city, this skill is still a great practice.

Find something you love about your city. Maybe it’s an undiscovered bike trail, a new restaurant you’ve never been to, or a local gathering that happens once a month. You can use tools like Yelp, Facebook Events, and your city’s website to find out what’s going on in your area.

This could be a great staycation idea as well!

7. Learn or Practice an Instrument.

I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the piano.

I thought it was too late for me–that you had to learn how to play as a child. But the keys player in our worship band recently retired and began to offer piano lessons because there is a large need in our band for more keys players.

The thought of trying out a new hobby is exciting to me. I don’t know if I’ll be any good, but I know I enjoy music already and it can be extremely therapeutic to sing and play guitar with my husband during a long day.

It’s never too late to learn something. Even if it’s not musical!

8. Spend Time With Friends and Family.

We know you’re not a stranger to the concept that we’re made to be in community.

You tell this to your church all the time and encourage them to get connected to others. To join some sort of a small group environment.

But this is much easier to tell other people to do than to do it yourself.

It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day. You have to plan events, sermons, get coffee with people, and work on nights and weekends.

There’s a difference between being with people on ‘work-mode’ and being with the people that you don’t have to “work” to be around.

These are the people you can be honest about how you’re doing (which is vital as a pastor), who you can have game nights with, laugh with, and grieve with. Whether it’s in a small group, your family, or fellow church staff, find these people and plan time to relax and “recharge” together. Together is always better.

9. Write Something.

Writing is a skill that’s pretty essential in life. I’ve gotten by without having to do much math, but you can’t usually work any job without having some skill of written and verbal communication. It’s an important skill to have even if you’re not the next Mark Twain.

Not a great writer?

The only way to get better at anything is to just do it.

It doesn’t have to be fancy or a work of fiction. Trying keeping a journal and using it for your prayers or just write down how you are feeling that day, an experience you may have had recently, or a couple of things you’re grateful for.

You may begin to find this practice of slowing down and writing not only to be therapeutic, but it can actually give you better sleep quality as well.

10. Plan a Date Night.

If you are working at a church and/or have kiddos, it’s likely that you may not get as much time in with your spouse.

Your first ministry is to your family, so make sure to keep your marriage flourishing, you are actively nourishing it.

Here are 20 fun date ideas if you are tired of the traditional dinner and a movie.

Pick something fun that you and your spouse would both enjoy doing or trying for the first time.

Take a Next Step

The #1 barrier to church growth starts with you.

If the senior pastor, or church leaders, are not intentionally taking the time to get better, no one else will follow suit.

We know it can be difficult to know where to begin or even where to go to grow personally. That's why we developed a FREE resource for you. The personal growth plan. All of us on staff at Church Fuel use it because it's that useful.

Take some time this week to fill this out and make your personal growth plan. Because in addition to learning how to recharge on your time off, you'll need to know what to do with your time.

Get the free download by clicking here.

4 Ways To Increase Small Group Participation

4 Ways To Increase Small Group Participation

It’s a common refrain among church leaders in charge of small groups: How do we get more people involved? The average church has 6 out of 10 attendees involved in some kind of small group ministry. That means 40 percent of your church is likely not connected to a group.

As more ominous statistics are released each year detailing the decline in American church attendance, many church leaders have started focusing on small group participation as a key indicator of the health of their church.

“In the future, church attendance won’t drive engagement; engagement will drive attendance,” writes Toronto pastor Carey Nieuwhof on his blog. “The goal will become to get people engaged faster and to engage people more deeply in the true mission of the church…”

While there are many ways to engage more deeply with your members, small group participation is one of the surest signs that an attendee is moving toward deeper involvement in the life of your church. Which is to say: healthy churches need healthy small groups.

Connecting that other 40 percent to a small group won’t be easy, but it can be done. Here are a few time-tested ideas to get you started.

1. Get more leaders!

Obviously, the number of your small groups is typically dependent upon the number of leaders you can enlist. It’s certainly easier said than done. But start by raising the profile of small group leaders. It’s not hard. Small group leaders are on the frontlines of your church. Their ministries are flush with stories. Tell their stories from the pulpit. Share them on your website. Speak of these leaders as heroes, those who make great sacrifices to make an impact in your church and in the broader community.

Also, take a look at your requirements and expectations for group leaders. Your strategy may dictate your expectations, but make sure you don’t have any outdated expectations that don’t fit today’s culture.

2. Leadership must model small group involvement.

Small groups can’t just be something your church leadership talks about. Your leaders must actually participate. This includes your senior leader. Small group involvement for leaders, particularly senior leaders, has its pitfalls. Depending upon the personality of the leader and the others in the group, having senior leaders step into a small group can stifle natural conversation. Senior leaders may also find it tough to be completely open during group discussion.

But it’s so crucial to the overall success of the small group strategy that leaders and the groups they’re in must choose to work through these difficulties together. You could try things like having the senior leader actually host a group, back off, and let another leader take over. This can be a great time for the senior leader to get to know their church members on a more personal level.

Church bodies can smell a “small group faker” from a mile away. If your leader encourages people to participate in groups he isn’t a part of, it’ll seem hollow and will ultimately fail.

3. Consider using multiple types of small groups.

There’s no rule saying you have to follow a particular small group strategy rigidly. Many of the strategies out there accommodate (and even encourage) an investment in other kinds of groups. Just because you offer sermon-based small groups doesn’t mean you can’t have some missional groups (in fact it doesn’t mean your missional groups can’t also do sermon-based studies as well). Just because most of your groups are closed doesn’t mean some of them can’t be open.

4. Give people a short-term group option.

You’d be surprised what a person would be willing to do for four or six weeks that they don’t want to commit to indefinitely. Even if your church prefers models that support long-term small groups, start a few short-term groups at key points in the year (after Easter, beginning of summer, the start of school, etc.). Target times when people’s schedules may be in flux (like at the beginning of new seasons or the start or end of school). Once these new groups form, encourage participants to consider extending their time together by suggesting a follow up study.

This article has been excerpted from the free echurch ebook Shrink To Grow: How To Engage Your Church Through Small Groups.

Four Reasons Small Groups Aren’t Working in Your Church

Four Reasons Small Groups Aren’t Working in Your Church

Are you struggling to get small groups working in your church? Are they just not getting the traction you want them to get? Are you frustrated people won’t join or attend regularly?

Small groups are a great way to help people connect to the church and follow Jesus. They provide context for relationships, pastoral care, and Bible Study.

But they don’t always work.

Here are four reasons small groups might not be working in your church.

#1 – The ministry menu is already too crowded.

Most churches compete for the attention of their members.

Some churches give men the option of participating in a 6am Men’s Bible Study every other Friday at a local breakfast spot or joining a nightly small group with their wives. Be honest…which of those is easier?

Some churches organize 5 women’s ministry events throughout the year, with various committees and planning teams, then also ask them to prioritize small groups throughout the week. How many people have that much time?

Some churches ask people to devote 2, 3, or 4 nights a week to various church meetings and activities and wonder why small groups can’t get traction.

I’m not dogging on activities and ministries, but I am asking a priority question.

  • Do you want men in your church involved in small groups or coming to a random dinner or church work day?
  • Do you want teenagers in your church involved in a consistent small group or do you want to busy them up with events and activities?
  • Do you want volunteers in your church to serve at a bunch of one-off programs and ministries or do you want them showing up consistently with the same group of people?

The question is one of competition. Not in that very moment or on that particular Sunday night. But as to how many things people can juggle. It’s tempting to think, “This program doesn’t really compete with anything and the building isn’t even being used at that time.”

But every time you add something, it requires thought, planning, and communication. Your congregation feels all of that.

That’s why we believe the key to growth in your church might not be something you start, but something you stop.

If you took an honest look at your ministry menu and cancelled things that were no longer effective, then redirected that energy to the things that lead to healthy growth, good things will happen.

Use our Ministry Evaluation Form (available as a part of Church Fuel's Resource Library) to have an honest conversation about how well a program or ministry is really working.

#2 – The senior pastor isn’t personally bought in.

I’m convinced one of the reasons groups didn’t work well in our church plant is because I wasn’t involved in one of them.

I was asking people to do something I wasn’t doing.

That’s just bad leadership.

I had all kinds of excuses like being too busy, conflict of interest, and not finding the right people.

But it was wrong and dumb.

I erroneously insulated myself from people in the church.

As I’ve worked with other churches over the last years, I’ve seen it over and over again. Whether it’s groups or giving or mission trips or justice or inviting…the church follows the leaders.

The congregation notices what is omitted.

The congregation picks up on the priorities.

One of the most effective announcements for small groups are those “by the way” stories the pastor works into the sermon. When you talk about your group, even in passing, it reinforces to the congregation that it’s important.

#3 – You aren’t willing to invest financially.

This isn’t just a groups thing; it’s much bigger than that.

One of the big reasons any program or ministry doesn’t work is a lack of funding.

If you say student ministry is important, but the fall festival budget is bigger and you ask kids to do ridiculous fundraisers, then student ministry isn’t important.

If you say groups are important, but there’s a miniscule line-item in the budget, then groups aren’t important.

Your budget illustrates your priorities as a church.

For groups to work, you need to adequately fund the groups budget. And it’s not about the dollar amount; it’s about prioritizing and percentages.

What do you need a groups budget for?

  1. Curriculum. There is a ton of free stuff on the Internet, but you do get what you pay for. Find something great that works with your budget. It’s probably not the free option.
  2. Kickoff events. When you have training meetings or kickoff events in the evening, you should have food and childcare. Make it easier and enjoyable for people to participate.
  3. Leader training. Get your leaders a Church Fuel subscription that includes Team Training or find other ways to pour into them. These are the people leading your groups and they need encouragement and resources.

Speaking of leaders…

#4 – You don’t focus on developing great leaders.

The quality of your groups ministry depends on your intentional process for developing leaders.

Notice I didn’t say it was due to how many leaders you have.

You can’t control that right now.

There is not a secret stash of great leaders being horded by a rogue ministry leader. You have the leaders you have.

A pastor with a growth mindset does not complain about a lack of leaders. Instead, work on your leadership development process. Get ready for God to bring you people. Start looking for people to put for the process.

Whether your church has 1, 10, 100, or 1,000 leaders, leadership development is tough and it requires your focus. But it’s the secret sauce for a strong groups ministry.

Take a Next Step

One thing we’ve noticed about leaders in the church is they typically crave training. Leaders love opportunities to get better and develop their skills. Yet too many churches don’t provide any leadership training to their people.

This resource will help you:

  • Learn how to lead yourself because it starts with you!
  • Lead others so your church can thrive on strong leadership for decades
  • Lead projects so nothing or no one gets lost in translation

With Team Training through Church Fuel, you can share the videos with your staff, elders, and leaders and they can watch on their own schedule.