You have some young people assigned to you at camp. An informal gathering for reflection is on the schedule and you are in charge. You’re a little nervous about doing this right. What can you consider doing to give room for the Spirit of God to work in their lives?
Below are suggestions that come out of my experience over years of small group leadership. In fact, they were used recently at a camp each evening during a 45 minute “family time.”
1. Avoid Rows, if at all possible.
God can work regardless of how you arrange the seating, but it isn’t good to make unnecessary hindrances to communication. If at all possible, circle up. If more are involved, add another concentric circle. Or, sit casually all over the room.
2. Laugh together.
If you just came from hearing a sobering message, you might want to get right to serious matters. Sometimes, though, especially at an event where so much intense teaching is crammed into a short period, it’s good even to be a little silly before the group settles down.
3. Avoid talking too much to the group.
You probably shouldn’t re-teach a message just heard. And I know it’s hard to stay quiet during that “awkward silence,” but try. You might be surprised who speaks up.
4. Come prepared with questions.
A good opening question is, “What was a favorite thing from today?” You might then ask the group to share something helpful or convicting from the Bible teaching that day.
5. Prepare participants to speak up.
Throughout the day you will have conversations with people in your group who talk to you about the very things you wish could be shared with the whole group. You might say, “Be sure to speak right up during family time about what you just told me. Sound good?” You might even prepare two or three people in this way.
6. Break up the group into smaller groups.
This approach might actually allow for more participation. You probably will only want to try this once or twice in a given event. If your group has both males and females, you could divide according to gender with a male leader taking the men, and a female leader being responsible for the ladies. Use a separate location so that each group cannot hear the other, especially if there are only two groups.
7. Ask the believers in the group to share a testimony or exhortation.
At a recent youth camp, I asked, “Would any believers like to share a testimony or exhortation you think others need to hear or would be helped to hear?” What happened next was powerful as believer after believer spoke urgently and lovingly to those in the room. There’s no guarantee that this will happen, but it’s worth a try, especially toward the end of your time at the event.
8. Give participants a way to communicate where they stand with the Lord.
This is best done toward the end of the event. I especially have in mind groups in which there were numerous unbelievers at the start of the event.
If the group is small enough, you can effectively do this one-on-one, male leaders with other males and women leaders with females. However, if the group is larger, another method may be required. One idea is to put the following categories on a half sheet of paper and ask them to check all that apply.
- ___ The Lord has saved me this week.
- ___ I am not sure if I am a Christian.
- ___ The Lord has given me assurance of salvation this week.
- ___ I came into this week thinking I was a Christian, but now believe I was mistaken.
- ___ I am confident I am a Christian.
- ___ I am interested in the Bible and Jesus, but not for my life personally.
- ___ I don’t care about spiritual matters.
- ___ None of the categories above fit me.
You might provide space between each so they can give a brief explanation. Make sure they put their name at the top because this will be vital information for future discussions.
9. Respect the allotted time.
Usually, you can accomplish everything in the planned time. The group will appreciate your leadership more if you do.
10. Greet people as they arrive, and stick around afterward when counsel is urgent.
Leaders sometimes group up and just talk among themselves, or sit quietly without saying much to others as they join the gathering. Greetings, though, show your care for those in the group and make participants more relaxed and willing to speak up.
And then, after the gathering has concluded, sometimes what was officially planned next can wait. For example, at our recent youth camp, on the last evening, even though there was a gigantic “all campers and leaders” game of “capture the flag” immediately after family time, the Lord was clearly working in multiple young people’s lives, and several needed to talk right away. A few of us didn’t play capture the flag that night.
The Greatest Need
Most importantly, what is needed in these reflection times is the presence and help of the Lord. I didn’t include this as a “tip” because it’s not something a leader does. However, I think perhaps the most important thing you can do before, after, and even quietly during these gatherings, is to ask the Lord to work in the lives of those present. Without the Lord’s blessing, even a perfectly led reflection time will accomplish nothing. But if the Lord is with us, even our weaknesses are no hindrance to God working powerfully through us (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9).