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A student pastor that is thinking philosophically and programmatically about their large group environment and about the small group approach to relational ministry needs to ask these two questions:

1.  How can small groups enhance the large group student ministry environment?

2.  What are some practical ways to transition from “large group” to “small groups”?

Depending on how one answers these two questions will determine the quality and effectiveness of their large group and small group environments.

Here are my thoughts on these two questions.

First, adopting a small group model for your large group environment gives students an immediate opportunity to break away from the large group teaching time and allow your students to process what they have just heard and/or experienced.  I have found that at least breaking your students up into gender groups right after the talk allows for a deeper and more vulnerable interaction with a trusted adult and with the content presented.  Bottom line allowing your students to step away from an often intimidating large group of their peers and be in a space where they can ask the questions they wouldn’t feel comfortable asking in a larger setting gives the small group leader a chance to really dig into the content and apply it to their life.  Plus doing small groups within a large group setting requires your small group leaders to only be at one student ministry program per week.

I know that there are hurdles when it comes to creating and running an effective small group ministry.  It takes time.  It takes people.  It takes planning.  It takes the effective recruitment of adult volunteers who care about students.  But adopting the small group model is the greatest and most sustainable impact for Christ on a student’s life and it is my belief doing small groups within the large group setting works the best.

Second, regardless of the size of your group, it’s tough to end a talk and then have your students shift (be it physically to another location or just into groups in the same room) into their small group time. However, the following are some things you can put into play to help ease the transition:

Speaker – The communicator can help the transition by giving a “heads up” to your small groups with a leading question for the students to be thinking about or instructions for something to do right when they get into their small group. For example… “When you get into your small group, we want everyone to share one time that… “ or “As you head out to your small groups, start thinking of how…” This can be anything that can get at least some of the student’s minds headed in the right direction.

Consistency – Have your groups meet in the same area with the same leader each week. This will help expedite the process of getting them from point A to point B. It will also make it easier to know where to go, should you need to find a student or place someone into a particular small group.

Ice Breakers – It’s tempting for a small group leader to want to jump into the “meat” of the discussion, but students need some help in making the switch from being a receiver of a message (just sitting and listening) to being a participant in the message. Given that, getting into a routine of a quick catch up from the week or some sort of icebreaker is a great way to begin. For example: Highs & Lows – this gives each small group member a chance to say what the best and worst thing of their week was. It allows everyone to get caught up but keeps it short enough to where it doesn’t take all the small group time. This also allows the small group leader to hear some of the pressing issues for each student and makes it easier to possibly incorporate it into the application of the message.  If you are struggling to find some icebreakers—hop on google and type:  icebreakers for students.

Contextualize – It is easy for a small group leader to rehash what was said from stage.  However, the purpose of small group is for the group to process the information given in Large Group (or to resolve the tension from the session) within the context of their own situations. That said, it’s important for the small group leader to listen to the talk through the lens of what they know their students are going through. Once in small group, they can then choose questions that will prompt the most interactive discussions for their students.

Smooth transition is a team effort… communicator + small group leaders + students. Once a routine is in place, things get a little more seamless and momentum is gained (not lost) in the process.

This is a guest post from my friend Jeremy Zach. Jeremy is a veteran youth pastor, blogger, and he connects with youth pastors all across the country as he helps create XP3 Students Curriculum for Orange. You can follow him on twitter at @jermyzach or check out his blog at