Are you like me… are you constantly asking yourself the questions, “What are we going to do in our small groups? What kind of things should they study? Is there anything out there that my junior high students would like? How can my leaders engage students in their small groups?” I have been asking myself these questions since we started doing small groups in ’96. Every year we are faced with the challenge of providing lessons/curriculum for our small group leaders to teach, discuss, & lead in their small groups….and it has never been an easy task. However, we have adopted a few different ideas along the way that have helped us create fresh, engaging, junior high friendly curriculum for our leaders and students. We are constantly on the search for new stuff…but we also have taken the old stuff from time to time and turned into something new. Instead of encouraging you to purchase new stuff or reinvent the wheel….re-read through what you already have and see if you can’t turn that into something fresh. Below are some of the ideas that have helped us take old, existing curriculum/lessons to the next level.
Start by talking to your students and leaders.
If you are looking to create new lessons for your small groups…talk to your audience. Survey your leaders and your students. Find out what your leaders are super passionate about and find out what your students want to spend time diving into. Help your small group lessons win by choosing topics that both students and leaders will enjoy working through together. This might mean that each individual small group is studying something different. I think sometimes as youth pastors we decide what are small groups are going to do based on what “we think” will make a great small group lesson…but the leaders and students are the ones who are actually on the journey together…why not let them decide. TIP: As you read through small group curriculum – allow students and leaders to help you with the task…something might spark their interest that you might not notice.
Take the topics…use the scripture….but toss the rest.
You might currently have a few curriculum or devotional guides sitting on your shelf, or maybe you have bible study lessons that you used in your own small group. Whatever the case may be….there is a ton of small group curriculum out there. There are freebies to download…youth ministry websites to look at….and fellow youth pastors to borrow from. Take some time to read through your different curriculum resources. Look for the topics and scripture that your students & leaders suggested. You don’t need to totally reinvent the wheel to create some fresh curriculum. A lot of the resources out there have great ideas for topics and scripture study. Use it as a bridge to creating something personal and experiential for your students.
The five senses + experiential = FRESH
Your junior high students are no longer in a place where they are willing to except “because the bible says so.” They are looking to experience God…touch God…they want to know and believe that God is real…all on their own. But let’s face it…junior high students are also a tad squirrelly at times, they can go off on long tangents, and can seem totally shallow & superficial. So, all that to say creating a small group lesson that can tame the squirrel and help junior highers experience God is an interesting task. It’s hard for me to think that your basic look up the verse and answer the question will do. After you decide on your topics and the scripture for your small groups, take it to the next level by bringing those topics to life for your students. Look at the lesson and by using the five senses figure out ways for students to really experience the scripture. For instance, if your are doing a lesson on John Chapter 15…”The Vine and The Branches” – take your small group to a park and lead your small group there. Sit under a tree…have students rip off a branch and hold it while you teach…bring duck tape to try to re-attach it….discuss and answers questions near the tree. Bring your topics to life…allow your students to experience God’s word in their small groups through touch, sight, sound, taste, and smell. If you look at scripture or you look at a small group curriculum series you should be able to find some sort of experiential element that brings it alive for your students. I really believe that small groups that experience God’s word together truly form a deep bond and lasting memories.
Use media in your small groups. Show a DVD clip, read an excerpt from a magazine, download a funny clip from the internet, listen to a worship song. Students are attracted to media elements. You don’t have to use them all of the time…and you don’t have to be an expert in technology….just slip some media elements into your small groups every once in a while. I am totally not a media person…but I keep my eyes open for things that might match up with what I am talking about each week in my small group. I like to use Videos That Teach by Doug Fields and Eddie James. It’s a topical book with great video clip ideas….it’s basically a movie clip library. Using media is a sure fire way to freshen up old curriculum and create great discussion in your small group.
Don’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to finding the right curriculum/lessons for your small groups. Take the existing stuff that is out there and add to it…freshen it up…and use your audience to help create something new & different for your junior high students.