How to Disciple Youth One-On-One, In Groups & In The Church
When it comes to discipleship, there are many ideas and opinions on what is best and what isn’t. Discipleship is an important aspect of the church and is a crucial way to bring new members into the church. With all this in mind, what are some of the best tactics when it comes to discipling?
How do we disciple youth? Discipling youth and children of any age is uniquely different from discipling adults. There is a significant overlap, and generally, the goal is the same. But, because of the stage of life that youth and other young peoples are in, we need to address discipleship differently than how we address it with adults.
I have collected some of my best advice concerning the discipleship of youth. I have decided to share some of my own experiences with discipling youth individually and in group settings. In this blog, I will explain some of the tactics that I have witnessed success in, as well as common attempts that are less fruitful.
How to Disciple Youth One-On-One
When discipling youth on-on-one there needs to be a commitment to a significant amount of time. There needs to be a specific plan set in place. Ultimately, discipleship doesn’t happen one-on-one effectively if the one-on-one meetings are sporadic or rare. They need to be frequent and on a regular basis.
The most effective way to disciple youth one-on-one is to have a regular rhythm, whether that’s once a week or several times a month or some other regular pattern. It basically creates momentum in the relationship.
In addition, it allows youth to feel safe, which is really the key to getting them to open up and listen to your advice. If they feel safe and secure they are willing to be far more open about their feelings and far more receptive of any instruction you may give. However, if you are not meeting frequently, or if the meetings are sporadic, the needed sense of emotional momentum is not created. It cannot continue to be built and no rapport can be strengthened. Therefore, safety and security within the heart and mind of the youth is never achieved.
Furthermore, having a plan is exceedingly important. If you are just hanging out with no strategy in place, the likelihood of being effective is especially low. But, if you are strategic by giving reading assignments, and having specific topics you want to tackle, you will eventually get to the conversations that need to be had. This is a guaranteed method.
How to Disciple Youth in Groups
Discipling groups of youth are not all that different than doing it one-on-one, in that it must be done frequently. There has to be a regular rhythm in order for momentum to grow. The one caveat that can be extremely helpful is to be deliberate about how you put those groups together. For example, if there is an 18-year-old man that I really want to disciple, who is struggling greatly with insecurity, I will intentionally put him in a group with a 22-year-old young man. I chose the 22-year-old man specifically because he has grown a lot in his own security. This situation forces the 18-year-old to interact with someone a little older and more mature that can then model how to grow in his security in the Lord.
Now, not only is the 18-year-old man getting instruction from me, but he is also seeing how that instruction has played out in the life of some of his peers. This can be tremendously impactful and cause that particular youth to be more receptive to the instruction I want to give. In addition to that, people may feel safer or more secure in groups rather than in one-on-one settings. Group settings can be fun and disarming, once again leading to more opportunities for discipleship down the road.
How to Disciple Youth in a Church
When disciplining youth in a church, we seek to be structured and strategic. Frequently, many pastors and church leaders simply want to make this informal or organic, but this just doesn’t work. From my understanding and experience, they need something more structured. One-on-one hangout time and small group times can be more informal. Yet, when we are seeking to deploy disciple-makers or to help other people become better disciplers of others, we must be strategic. Structures like Bible studies and Sunday school classes can be tremendously helpful.
Moreover, I want to have official discipleship training for any adult leader seeking to be a discipler of youth. I want to make sure they have gone through very formal and structured training. I am training them on what to say and what not to say. I’m training them on how to spend time with youth one-on-one and in small group settings. I am giving them all the wisdom and tools on how to do that effectively.
Additionally, if I’m going to be effective in discipling youth in a church setting, I need to empower and give clear permission to my leaders to then interject themselves into the lives of the youth. You may think people will do this naturally, but they simply will not. Adult leaders will never interject themselves in the lives of youth unless there is a pastor or church leader who specifically challenges them to do so.
When you challenge them, they will begin to act. Furthermore, you want to train them on how to give in instruction, how to give encouragement, and how to give correction. Within the corporate gatherings in a church, you want to have structured teaching times and structured discussions being facilitated. But even more importantly, you want to empower, train and challenge your adult leaders to interject themselves in the lives of the youth. This ultimately leads to the most effective discipleship opportunities.
Kenneth E. Ortiz (M.Div.) is a professor and recruiter at Bethlehem College and a pastor at Cities Church. He has 15+ years of vocational ministry experience. He’s also a podcaster, author, and Ph.D. student. Kenneth lives in Bloomington, MN with his wife Malaina, they have one daughter.