TABLES, TRIBES AND SMALL GROUPS
Going Small, In Order To Grow Big
I love growth! Growth is exciting. It is also disruptive. Growth changes our status quo. Growth challenges our mindset. Growth, if not channeled correctly can turn into stagnation. As youth pastor of the Potter’s House Church, Battle Creek, MI in 2008 that is exactly where my team and I found ourselves. We started with seven students in 2001 and over seven years we had experienced explosive growth. We were averaging 60 to 70 students per week but could not push past that limitation. We had a staff meeting to discover the obstacles that we were facing for future growth. My staff, which was strong and vibrant, told me that they felt overwhelmed and that there were simply too many kids to connect with. We began to pray, talk, and strategize a plan for future growth.
We decided that on Wednesday nights in our youth service we would institute tables for students to sit at. Instead of the normal row of chairs, we created a table environment where students could connect one to another. Each table would have 7 to 10 students with a leader and a student leader. Our student ministry had attempted small groups in the past in individual homes. However, for us personally, it created a lot more questions than answers. But by going to table ministry in our youth facility it gave us the same feel and end result of a small group, with the added luxury of having it all under one roof.
In the UPCI youth ministry handbook, The Art of Youth Work, I gave the following reasons why I am a major proponent of using tables for ministry:
- It breaks students up into smaller groups.
- It predetermines groups you can use during your teaching.
- It creates a greater sense of community.
- It gives you a place to put the materials you will need for an interactive classroom.
- It creates an atmosphere.
BREAKING IT DOWN
For the rest of this article, I am going to use the acronym T.A.B.L.E. to communicate how we facilitated tables in our student services. These are the main tenants that we used, but feel free to adapt them to your personal needs and student culture.
If we are not careful, our youth group settings can create an environment that only fosters “one-way communication.” Some call this, “the sit and get principal.” This is where the students sit with wonder and amazement and listen to the wit and wisdom of the leader. . . or do they really? My wife – educator Dr. Bobbi Morehead – says, “the person talking is the person who is learning.” We must be very intentional to create two-way communication with our students so they are equally involved in the learning process.
On the very first night that we launched table ministry we had begun a series entitled TUI, “Teens Under The Influence.” That night I had Officer Leo Rivera, an active police officer in our community and a board member of our church speak on, “Teens Under The Influence Of DRUGS.” I asked him to speak in full police uniform. There were about 70 students there that night sitting at tables. While he was speaking he said, “the definition of ‘Teens under the influence of drugs’ is If anyone in your house, your dad, uncle, brother, grandmother is using drugs, then your whole house is under the influence of drugs.”
He then asked for students to discuss that statement at their tables. It created an unbelievable conversation between students and staff. He then asked everyone to get in a circle around their table for a time of prayer. He asked everyone to bow their heads and close their eyes, and raise their hand if anyone was under the influence of drugs in their home and had an immediate relative that was in jail currently due to drugs. One table that had seven girls, all raised their hands that they had a brother or father or uncle that was currently in prison due to drugs. After service, the adult leader of this table came to me weeping because she had felt the full impact of responsibility for her students due to the power of talking.
Once we instituted table ministry I told our staff that they are to be kind to every student in the room, but they needed to really know only the 7 to 10 students at their table. But really know their students . . . their likes and dislikes, what school activities they are involved in, when they perform, know their birthdays and celebrate them. The responsibilities of accountability include:
- 1) CONNECT WITH THEM – Each week, leaders will have up to 10 people they are responsible for each week. You will greet them with a smile when they arrive and take attendance of YOUR group. This can be done with an attendance sheet or electronic device. You will keep a record of your attendance for yourself and make sure the designated attendance leader of the entire program has a copy.
- 2) FOLLOW-UP ON THEM – Using your completed attendance sheet you will follow-up each week with the people who missed service from YOUR GROUP. You may follow-up on them by phone, text message, handwritten card, Facebook message, or personal visit. Everyone communicates differently, so connect with people who miss in the way that is most comfortable for you and them.
- 3) REMEMBER THEM – As the leader of your table, you will also take personal oversight of your tribe. As you get to know them, take notes about them. Send them a card for their birthdays and special events. One table leader would bring in Starbucks for her entire table each someone had a special event – yes, they had Starbucks all the time!
- 4) FELLOWSHIP WITH THEM – Make a point to fellowship with your tribe OUTSIDE OF CHURCH at least once each quarter (every three months). This can be as a whole group or with individual students. You can attend their ball games, concerts or birthday parties. Simply get creative and “do life” with YOUR students.
Everything I do through the course of the service would flow through the tables. When students would enter the room, there would always be a bucket in the center of the table. Everything needed for that service would be provided in the bucket.
- OFFERING– When we would take up the offering, leaders would have students put their offering in the bucket.
- PRAYER– We would do prayer requests and have students write names on paper and put it in the bucket.
- GAMES– If we were going to do a game, materials for that game would be placed in the bucket.
- ACTIVITIES– Many times at the conclusion of my message, I will do an activity for reflection and prayer such as, “Writing a Letter to God” on the topic of repentance. I would have the letters, the envelopes, and pens in the bucket for the table leader to distribute.
I am allergic to “dead time” in a youth service! I understand at times this is inevitable, but having the buckets prepped with all the needed supplies BEFORE the service, allows you to focus more on the students and for the students to focus more on God.
The most empowering part of tables, groups or tribes is that it empowers more people than yourself to lead the students. Our goal was to always have one adult leader and one assistant leader (Usually a student) with each group. Below are the following expectations of our table leaders:
- Be at church 30 minutes before service
- Set up your table (cover with paper)
- Stock your bucket (supply with markers, pens, lesson plans, announcement sheet, game pieces, etc.)
- Greet guests (Have them fill out visitor card or electronic device)
- Take attendance of your table (On sheet or electronic device)
- Facilitate the discussion at your table
- Clean up your table after service (Take down table, put away chairs, throw away trash.)
- Sort your bucket after service (Place unused items where they go, offering and prayer requests in the proper place, etc.)
THROUGH THE WEEK
- Follow-up on guests (send postcard to guests, call them during the week)
- Follow-up on those who missed at your table (send them a postcard)
Of course, these responsibilities will morph to the vision of your ministry. As any other leadership position, the clearer you are with expectations, the better the results you will receive.
One of my favorite parts of using tables is the environment you can create around them. Below are some of the things we have done or seen done to create a fun and inviting environment for students.
- DECORATE THE TABLES– Have tables covered with paper. (Hardware/building supply stores have brown painter’s paper in a roll one hundred feet long and three feet wide for $8.00. Depending on your size, the roll can last nearly a month.) Place permanent markers or crayons on the tables so students can write and take notes on the table. Also, have candy on the tables to add to the presentation.
- NAME THE TABLES – This generates a lot of energy and identity. Last year at South Texas Junior High Camp, the leaders took the first morning rally and broke all of the students into tribes of approximately 20 students each. They then gave each tribe a colored flag and gave them 30 minutes to come up with a tribe name and chant. Throughout the rest of the week, everything that happened was channeled through the tribes. They would enter the room with their flags and begin to chant. Morning devotions and recreation were all conducted through tribes. In our ministry in Battle Creek, we purchased sign holders at Staples and printed their table names and placed them on each table. I would reference each table name throughout the course of a service.
This simply builds team unity. You can come up with your own creative ways to build energy and cohesion with your groups. The main goal here is to create a positive identity.
Through the power of breaking the large group into smaller more relational groups, we were blessed to average 100 students for an entire school year. The power of groups is not reliant upon the number of students or the age group of your participants. I like to say that methods are scalable, meaning the complexity of the structure and information can scale up or down to your audience according to your needs.
I have used the table method with 100 students on a Wednesday night program. I am currently using tables every Wednesday night with approximately 10 6 to 10-year-olds. We use two tables, one for the boys and one for the girls. While I was Pastor I used tables for our Wednesday night Bible study in order to foster more fellowship among our members.
The strategy is not meant to overwhelm or to put more on you then what you can bear, it is simply a tool to guide you to more relational interaction and growth.
The power of tables, tribes, and groups is the same that can be said for any strong simply, relationships, relationships, relationships!