Making a good youth small group study yourself is time consuming perhaps, but also very rewarding. It gives you more flexibility than bought curricula and you can adapt your study specifically to the needs of your small group. While I don’t believe there’s one right format for good small group studies, I do think there’s a process you can follow to help you create a good study. Here’s what I advice on how to make a good youth small group study:
Everything you do needs to start in prayer, be imbedded in prayer. Without God’s blessing, the best Bible study in the world won’t make a difference for your students. Make it a habit to spend some real time in prayer before writing a small group study, not just a two minute ‘rescue me’ prayer a few hours before small group starts.
2. Pick a topic or a passage
Some prefer to start with a defined theme (‘friendship’ or ‘grace’), some prefer to let a Bible passage be the start. Either route has its advantages and drawbacks, so changing tactics regularly is probably a good idea. Whatever you do, make sure that the Bible is front and center at your small group. If you spend more time doing games or other fun stuff than you do reading and discussing God’s Word, you may need to refocus on the goal of your youth small group.
3. Study the passage(s)
You’ll need to know a bit more about the passage you’ll be discussing. Read it in several translations or interpretations and consult a few commentaries if you have them. For the topical ‘fans’, it’s very important to check if the passages really support your topic and if you’re not taking things out of context or interpreting them the wrong way. That’s where commentaries can be helpful.
4. Define a key message
Just like with making a sermon, you have to define a key message for your small group study. What do you want your students to learn, to remember, to do and/or to feel? Normally, the goal of small groups is discipleship, transformation into the likeness of Jesus. So make sure your key message fits that goal and is practical enough to apply to the student’s daily lives.
5. Come up with good questions
This is one area that really needs your attention. Boring, cliché questions will get you boring, cliché answers. Spending time on coming up with good and surprising questions that will get your small group talking, will really pay off. It’s here that you can show the relevance of the topic or passage for your student’s lives.
6. Formulate an application
You usually want your students to do something with what they have learned, you want them in some way to apply the key message. Make this very practical (remember that students often aren’t capable yet of applying theoretical principles into their lives!) and spend some time thinking of a way to encourage them to apply it. Don’t forget to follow up the next time.
7. Find supportive elements
Youth small group studies that consist of nothing but discussion or answering questions get boring real quick. That’s why it’s important to come up with supportive elements that bring variety and address the different learning styles of your students, yet help communicate your key message.
Think of elements like short games, demonstrations, a quiz, music, videos, a piece of art, a creative assignment like drawing or working with clay, etc. It can be pretty much anything, but the requirement is that they support your key message. Don’t include things just because they’re fun!
8. Create a rhythm
When combining all elements, you have to think about the rhythm of the study as a whole. Here are a few things to consider:
- Before you start on the study, give your small group at least 15 minutes to catch up and exchange stories. It will prevent them from whispering and talking throughout the study;
- A good warm up is important, you can’t start digging deep right away. So start with a good icebreaker element that still relates to your key message.
- Make the questions or teaching slowly increase in depth and intensity so they ease into it;
- Vary elements of passive listening with interactive elements;
- Don’t make the passive listening parts too long;
- Allow for discussions to continue if you see they work well. Be prepared and willing to skip one or two other elements if it’s necessary. Remember that the goal is not to execute the whole study, but to engage students and encourage growth;
- After a high-energy element like a game, it may take a while to get their attention back so do something to captivate them like watch a video. After that, you can segue into teaching or discussion;
- Create a winding down element that prevents a good, ‘deep’ atmosphere from being ended abruptly;
- Don’t schedule prayer at the end, especially if you have a tendency to run late. You’ll be in a hurry and won’t have time to pray in peace. Also, near the end of the small group study, students often get restless;
- If you want worship to be a part of your small group study, schedule it well. I’ve found that starting with songs often didn’t work well, but that doing worship in the middle worked better because they had slowly been brought into God’s presence.
9. Make a handout (or not)
When you’ve created your study, it’s time to decide if you want to give your students some kind of handout or not. It’s up to you. My advice: don’t do it all the time and don’t make them all the same. If you only do these fill-in-the-blanks kind of handouts for instance, it will get old soon. You could also do a summary of the key message, write down some extra verses to study, give them a suggestion for their own quiet time or list some questions to think about at home. Some students will love this, other won’t, which is why variety is your friend.
How do you go about making good youth small group studies? Do you have any other tips to add?