We are approaching the epicenter of change in our schedule. The normal is almost completely thrown out the window. For this next season, our schedule becomes a free for all…more like a very well scheduled free-for-all! There is no other word that sums up this season in youth ministry than summer!
Everything in our world changes over these two and half months. We go from having a somewhat together schedule every week to having no two weeks look the same. We are early mornings and late nights. We are trips to the river, the beach, camps, conferences, mission projects, scavenger hunts, and any other craziness you can think of!
No matter the youth culture, whether your students are likely to all travel or all stay home, the truth is that we have more access to our students in this season than any other time of the year. Less is happening to take up their time and energy, giving us prime access to strengthen their walks with Christ and relationships with each other.
We began asking, how can we change things up in the summer? How can we spark their interest? How can we rebuild our community from the tear down we all faced called spring?
Having a conversation recently with a fellow student pastor, we began to attack summer small groups the same way Jim Halpert from the office would. A pros and cons list, of course. I mean we may have more access to them in the summer, but their schedules change completely. By the time we completed our pros and cons list, the answer was evident, we were continuing small groups through the summer!
But What To Teach?
This Is When It All Changed For Us! We aren’t competing with school for their mental energy. We are fighting against Netflix, Hulu, and video games. Have you ever noticed that for most students, by the end of the summer, they are ready to go back to school, the very thing they couldn’t wait to escape? I believe it isn’t the fellowship that they are inherently wanting to return to, but instead, it is the learning. No student will ever admit this, and probably due to the fact they don’t realize it, but when the brain has rested for that long it begins to crave knowledge. Crazy, right?!
Our small group model that we have been using for the past few years, in fall and spring, has been John Wesley’s class meeting approach to community. It comes around basic questions: how is your soul with God, how is your faith in God this week, and how can we prayer for you. Instead of telling the students how to do something, it asks them to communicate HOW they are doing; Where are they right now in life and faith?
We decided to work the summer to our advantage and take our small groups in a new direction. We would take this small group time and have deeper teachings on a topic for the whole summer. We knew that the likelihood of a student being at every meeting during the summer would be almost impossible, so we picked a topic that we could really dig deep with from week to week instead of a series that would build week to week.
We decided to teach on the means of grace. Andrew Thompson wrote an incredible book on this topic and it helped us outline our study for the summer. Grace is a word talked about a lot hopefully in ministry. And the more something is discussed the more it also can be misrepresented. John Wesley believed there were inherent ways that we could receive grace instituted by God: baptism, searching the scriptures, prayer, communion, fasting, and fellowship. We saw the summer as a great time to really teach on these individual ways of receiving grace in a platform that the students were familiar with, small groups, but in a way that dives deep into their hearts and also their minds.
Raise the Bar
I believe students rise to the bar that you set before them. I know our summer schedule is crazy busy with trips, conferences, day trips, and so much more, but let’s approach this summer in a new way. Along with all the fun, let’s challenge our students in our small groups. Let’s challenge their minds during the summer with a teaching and topic in which not only brings more knowledge to their minds, but more importantly their hearts. May our students dive deep, in the minds and hearts, into the soil of God where God can grow their roots holding onto him and him alone.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.