One of the questions I get asked is, ‘what are the different ways of discipling young people?’ It’s a good question. To be honest, there is not one sweet way of discipling so I am always a bit wary of discussing different models or spending too much time on the latest fad in Christian youth discipleship. It seems to me that God is always doing something new so we need to be looking for what he is doing amongst us wherever we are, rather than looking elsewhere for solutions.
That being said, there do seem to be 5 main ways that churches are trying to disciple young people. If you are struggling with how you disciple your young people, you might want to explore these different methods to lead you in discussion as you seek God for the way that will work best in your particular situation and with your young people.
I should say that I have used all 5 models over my time as a youth leader, and all can be very effective in seeing young people grow in their faith and to become more confident in living their life with Jesus.
1. Youth group
The most common model of youth ministry is the youth group, where there is a mix of fun and games, worship and prayer, and Bible teaching, usually led by an adult youth leader. This is great for bringing together all the young people in the church who want to grow in their faith and understanding of Christianity as it provides a simple place to signpost any newcomers in this age group towards. The danger can be that it can become very consumerist as adults put on something for young people to go to and they then choose if it is for them or not. To prevent this from happening, you need to get the teenagers involved as much as possible in organising and leading the sessions, from the games, to the worship to the teaching. Teach them to teach each other is a much more important skill to pass on than simply telling them what to believe and why.
2. Cell group
The cell group model can be adult led or it can be led by young people with leadership potential. I loved running this model for a few years when we struggled to get sufficient adult involvement in our youth programme. We organised the young people into a few small cell groups of about 8 people in each, led by two young people. They met in their homes and would follow a set programme. They would keep me as the leader updated as to how each session went, any problems or any things to praise God for. Each session tends to follow a format of Welcome (icebreakers and catching up with each other), Worship (a chance to make sure we put Jesus at the centre of our time together), Word (exploring a passage of Scripture) and Witness (thinking through how we apply what we have learnt to our daily living).
Cell groups tend to meet each week, with one week in the month them all coming together for a cell celebration event.
Cell groups are great for deepening friendships and for nurturing leadership in teenagers. When they work well, they start to socialise together too and invite non-church friends along to these times. If they do this, these friends tend to start getting involved with the cell meetings as well.
The danger is that the youth leader has little control over whether the teaching is correct but this can be fixed by providing good, regular training for the leaders. The other difficulty is integrating new members into a cell group if they don’t already know someone. It is harder to tell a new young person to go to a cell group at a stranger’s home.
As so many churches struggle to find sufficient volunteers to provide a weekly commitment to running a youth group, mentoring has started to raise its head as a viable alternative. Whilst many adults find the idea of being a youth leader very daunting, the concept of meeting with one young person for one hour once per month sounds possible, and, dare I say it, exciting. Fantastic! It is a great way of creating intergenerational relationships in your church, and is particularly strong in churches where you struggle to have sufficient numbers of youth for a regular youth group.
Mentoring needs to happen within the church’s child protection guidelines, of course. Mentoring allows the adult and teenager to meet together to build relationship, to open the Bible together and to explore themes of Christian living. It is a great way for a young person to ask an adult Christian how their faith should affect their life as well as experiencing the challenges of being a Christian in the adult workplace.
The danger of mentoring is that adults don’t know how to disciple others, having not been particularly well discipled themselves. Fortunately there are some great resources available to help and so training mentors is essential.
4. Home group
This is a hybrid of the youth group and cell group models. The main difference is that all the young people meet together in one home, often the youth leaders’ home. It is a great way to help young people become accustomed to the concept of home group as a way of life, as they mature into adulthood. The group tends to be more discussion based, recognising that many games are difficult to play in a living room, due to the limit of space and the numbers of people in one room.
It can be a great place for building trust and sharing life together as the leaders open their home to the young people. The teenagers get to see a snapshot of what their life is like, especially if they are having to deal with putting children to bed at the same time as the group starts.
The danger can be that it is hard to invite new young people to the home group as they are being expected to go to a stranger’s home. The other problem is that the group can quickly grow to be too big for a living room and so the meetings become even more discussion based, which some teenagers will struggle with.
5. After service social
The final model I want to explore is when all the teenagers go to the main church service together, often sitting together in church, and then meeting up afterwards. Sometimes this can be for further bible study, but what seems to work best is to just have some fun together playing some games or watching a film. This can be a good model as it encourages the young people to be part of the wider church, and teaches that the service is for them as much as the adults (we then have to work with the service leaders to ensure that the services are youth friendly). It also provides a chance to chat informally afterwards about the service and anything that they may have not understood or to explore what God may be challenging them over.
The danger is that we don’t talk about faith at all and make it out to be a personal, private experience and we just have fun together.
There are many more possible models for youth discipleship but these seem to be some of the most common. As you can see, each has their own advantages and dangers to look out for. What is most important is that you pray for wisdom as to what might be the most effective for your situation today, and don’t be afraid to try something different. Our aim is to help young people grow in relationship with Jesus, not to stick to one particular model of youth ministry.