One of the things I find most difficult in what I do is being able to explain to others how discipleship is not a program. Any programming in your parish, including discipleship groups, should be done in order to foster and build a culture for discipleship. If a program is not helping build up discipleship or draw new youth into discipleship, then I would take time to seriously consider why it even exists. On the other hand, programming is a very important part of building a discipleship focused youth ministry in your parish. There are plenty of things you can do on a bigger scale that will bring discipleship groups together and will be an opportunity to draw others in as well. Here are a few parameters I have developed that will help evaluate programs as being helpful in a discipleship focused youth ministry.
Coordinate Things That Require More Than a Small Group
It’s hard to play a game of softball with a small group of 4-6 youth. Work towards offering opportunities in the parish that small groups could not do by themselves.
Compensate for What Your Leaders May Lack
Your leaders may have agreed to lead a group of young people in their faith, but they may not be experienced retreat leaders or engaging teachers. Consider planning a retreat that is an opportunity for your groups to attend and do the work of providing quality content that is presented well.
Take the “Work” Out of Being a Disciple Leader
Many leaders are great at mentoring and walking with the youth in their journey of faith. They may be more than willing to go on a camping trip with their group, but they may not have the skills or time to figure out the details. If the parish makes opportunities like this easy for their groups, they are more likely going to do them.
Bring Communities Together
Discipleship groups should be part of a greater community. Doing things that allow a group to continue being a group, while also exposing them to other groups and other youth in the parish will continue to foster growth as they are opened up to other people and possibilities.
Inspire Involvement In Diocesan/National Events
Similar to the tip above, exposing the youth in your parish to the Church community outside of your parish will provide a better understanding to the youth of the bigger picture of the Church that they are a part of in their discipleship groups.
Provide a Bridge to Outreach & Mission
Discipleship groups tend to be very inward-focused, but the goal is that they would be a light to the world and be sent to build up the Body of Christ (the Church). The parish should provide opportunities that make it easier to practice outreach and share the fruits of what is happening in their group.
I should end by saying that in each case, these opportunities are ideas that should be offered, not required, for those in small groups. If the parish has programming in place and no one wants to be a part of it, then stop doing it. People will go where they are fed and formed and the programming is helping them move forward. Be sure to have ongoing dialogue with your discipleship group leaders about what things the parish can do to help build up the small groups and inspire them to a missionary initiative.