So you have been
coaxed into invited to lead a discipleship group in your parish. When a good leader is just getting started with a new group, there can be some very frustrating moments. Perhaps you have no idea where to begin. Perhaps you have already encountered some obstacles and are thinking to yourself, “I was promised that this whole discipleship thing was going to be easier and better because I would be working with youth who had a desire to be there and a desire to grow in their faith. It should be easy, right?” The correct answer is NO! Starting a new discipleship group in any situation comes with its struggles. Here are ten tips for you to consider as you begin.
Strive for the Four Earmarks First
The Four Earmarks are the way you will know you have created a good atmosphere for discipleship. Be ok with doing less learning and study and spend time building intimacy in your group.
Make Every Meeting Worth Their Time
New groups often go through a “settling” time where youth are not extremely committed. One of the biggest mistakes is when a leader believes they can’t follow through with what they planned because one or two people couldn’t be there. Go into each meeting with a goal that you can achieve no matter how many people come, and if only some of them show up, meet that goal with them.
Set a Strategic First Goal
For new groups, a common first goal is to have a bigger faith experience together, something that can help bond and gel the group, as well as foster conversion. Find an event or an opportunity that you can look towards getting your entire group to attend. This could be your Diocesan Youth Conference, a summer mission trip, or even a lock-in.
Get Feedback from the Committed Ones
Discern who in your group is invested long-term, and find time to get their feedback. They will likely have a different perception of things and be able to give you some ideas as well.
Start as Naturally as Possible
Sometimes this is out of your control, but ideally every small group would develop naturally through already established friendships and common circles (This applies to both the teens with one another and the leaders with the teens.) If you were assigned a group and some of the members don’t know each other already, be sure to spend time breaking down those walls first.
Get Their Families Involved
Having the parents of your group members on board will make a huge impact on the commitment level and investment of the youth involved. Consider having a group potluck with all of the families in your group, be sure you have all of the parents included in your regular communication, and make sure they have access to you (phone, email, etc).
Cling to Your Parish Coordinator
If discipleship groups have been going on for some time in your parish, cling to your parish coordinator and other group leaders. Get feedback and share with them some of the things you are seeing and desiring, and they will be a wealth of wisdom for you.
Learn About Your Group Before Teaching Your Group
The goal of a discipleship leader is to form each young person in the Four Areas of Formation. Before you can do this, you must know where they are at. It’s sort of like a music teacher wanting to teach a lesson without first hearing what their musicians can do.
As much as possible, be consistent with meeting times and places, especially in the beginning. Doing so will make it much easier for the youth and their parents to get comfortable and adjust their regular schedules to accommodate their new group.
Youth need fun and YOU need fun. Leading a discipleship group can be one of the most joyful experiences for an adult. If you are stressing out too much, something is out of balance, and it may be good to take a step back and look at things from the outside. Let your first goal be that the youth in your group develop meaningful memories of their discipleship group that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
I’d like to leave you with a few final practical ideas for new groups. Obviously, remain a person of prayer and have a great trust in our Lord. Remember that your investment and sacrifice is a gift to these youth and to their parents. Good luck with your new group and may God richly bless your gift of self to these young people.