Student Discipleship Groups

By: Ford Rigney

Teenagers are in a pivotal time. On a daily basis, they experience a mixture of stressors and emotions. School pressure, job responsibilities, home life, and social experiences all have an impact on teens today. If you are a Student Minister, you must recognize that you may have only one hour a week with your students; possibly three for those most involved. How can we efficiently and effectively tackle some of the issues students are facing while helping them navigate middle and high school?  Aside from general conversations and small groups on Sunday mornings or Wednesday night services, it can be hard for me to have in-depth, one on one conversations with each student in my ministry. As a Student Minister, I wear a lot of hats. I’m making decisions, planning sermons, counseling students and parents, visiting schools, attending students’ events, and trying not to get hurt while playing dodgeball. Realizing this and examining the Student Ministry at the church where I currently serve has allowed me to step back and see how I could create intentional time for each student. Something had to be done so no student in our ministry could slip through the cracks. 

Student Discipleship Groups (SDG) formed after a time of reflection and seeking the wisdom of others. I began to think of how I wanted it to look and how it would best work in our church. I did not want a programmed, robotic style process. Organic relationships and conversations would be the backbone of SDG. It all began with a sign-up sheet. Would students even want to do this? I explained what I hoped it would be and left the sign-up sheet for those to jot down their name if they were interested. This provided an opportunity for them to take ownership in the process and establish a commitment. Our Student Ministry team pushed the sign-ups for a few weeks at the beginning of the school year. After we could gauge how many were signing up, I began to recruit adults who were willing to disciple students once a week for an hour. Before agreeing to volunteer, our adult discipleship partners are made aware of the goals of SDG and how they align with Colonial Heights’ values and rites of passage.

The key being to me sticking to my promise of it not being over programmed or routine. Each adult has at least two students paired with them with a maximum of three. They choose when to meet during the week. During their hour, they can go to a restaurant, coffee shop, etc., after receiving permission from the students’ parent(s). This also opens up a line of communication between the adult discipleship partner and the students’ parent(s). This partnership between the adult volunteer and the parent establishes a committed, strong relationship which benefits the student in the long-run. While our Student Discipleship Groups have the option to spend their hour whenever and wherever they’d like, we open the church up before and after service times in our Student Ministry area to allow for meetings there if needed. 

During the meeting times, organic conversation is allowed to happen while curriculum is suggested. Colonial Heights Baptist Church has a resource called 25 Things Every Believer Should Know, and our Student Discipleship Groups start with it to allow for a foundation to form while getting to know each other. Once they have completed this resource, the adult and students have free reign in selecting future topics. As the Student Minister, I provide suggestions of Scripture-based resources and materials, but I do not want to take away from the relationship being built by forcing a set curriculum for all groups. They do have to let me know what they decide on studying so we can make sure it is biblically based and theologically sound. 

Each year of our Student Discipleship Groups has produced a variety of learning opportunities. From how to recruit the adult volunteers to training the adults on different topics youth care about today (social media, slang, etc.) to making sure students understand God’s great love for them at all times, it is remarkable to see the positive outcomes no matter the amount of trial and error. Student Discipleship Groups have offered an opportunity which has produced great growth in spiritual and emotional maturity for all parties involved. No church needs a Student Ministry which stays to itself. We need to truly be a family with all stages of life present working together to glorify God while spreading the good news of Jesus daily. 

Author: Ford Rigney is the Student Minister at Colonial Heights Baptist Church.