Over the years I’ve experimented with a variety of formats for running youth group. And, I see a lot of other people experimenting, as well. Of course, you have to experiment until you come up with what feels the best for you, for your group, and your context. But, IMO, this is the best format for our group in our context.
During the 5 minute countdown, the playlist (instrumental EDM) gets gradually louder and louder, the house lights get
gradually darker and darker bringing more and more attention to the colored backlit stage. This gradually centers our focus toward the front and cues the kids that we’re about to start. When our countdown hits zero (the room is dark and the playlist is loud), the band cranks gets right into a great song with lots of energy.
Then two students (we call them “Hosts”) get up and welcome everyone to the Covenant Church (not to “youth group,” or to “FUEL” what we call our Wednesday night experience). They share a couple of announcements. Then they have everyone do the “One Minute Check-In.” All our small group leaders turn to the kids in their small group to say “Hi” and meet any new kids that may have come with a friend. This is to a 1 minute countdown without music. We may at some point try starting this segment with a Minute-to-Win-It type game every now and then…but we’ll see.
Then, when the countdown hits zero, the band cranks into another set of two or three songs with scripture and prayer interspersed. After the worship set the worship leader prays out and the Hosts get back up on stage and splits the group to their teaching groups.
Sometimes they all stay together in the auditorium, other times we split Middle School and High School, but most of the time they divide into three groups: Middle School (6th-8th) goes to one location, Varsity (11th-12th) goes to another location, and JV (9th-10th) stays in the auditorium. Each group usually has its own topic or series relevant to their life stage. Seniors and freshman have very different needs and interests. Sophomores and sixth graders are very different, too. During this time the group may play a 10 minute game or they may do some Shout-Outs (things they saw someone else do this week that was pretty awesome) or they may just go right into the message which lasts any where from 10-25 minutes depending on the night.
After the message, they split into their small groups by grade, then gender, then relationships. Every student is in a small group. If you show up at our church, you get hooked up with a group. In fact, for us, “The Small Group is the Big Event.” We think of it this way. When kids come to church on Wednesday nights, they’re coming to join a small group. As a small group, they go to worship together, then to teaching together, then they gather together to talk about what they just experienced. Individual kids are not coming to a large attractional event. The small group is the big event and the worship, games, and teaching, all point toward and setup the small group for a great discussion.
During the small group discussion, leaders will do Highs & Lows (a.k.a. Ups & Downs, Roses & Thorns), ask some topic-related, discussion-orientated application questions, and end with prayer requests and prayer. Middle School small group discussions go for about 25 minutes. High School small group discussions go for about 40 minutes.
I’d use the format even if our group had only 12 kids. The small groups would probably simply be a boys group and a girls group. If we had a group of 20-30, I’d split the teaching groups into middle school and high school, then small groups into MS boys, MS girls, HS boys, HS girls. As the group size grows, the small groups just morph closer and closer to groupings by grade and relationships.
IMPORTANT: Whatever you do….make small groups important! SMALL GROUPS ARE THE KEY to properly caring for your students and allowing your ministry to grow!
We only have 75 minutes to work with for Middle School and 90 minutes to work with for High School. So, we’re lean on time for games and prefer more time in small groups. However, if we had another 10-15 minutes in each we’d probably do games of some sort right after the opening song or in our teaching groups before the lesson.