It’s important to create a welcoming environment for your small group. Ideally, chairs are arranged around a table, or there are chairs in a circle. However, this depends on where you meet. You may decide to have some kind of devotional help (a reminder that your time together is set apart, such as a candle, cross or icon) or you may not. You may wish to have a written agenda for the evening, although that is also optional.
The most important thing is that your teens feel welcome and safe, and that you’ve made time to be together.
- Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John prayer journals for each participant. These journals can be downloaded and printed for free, or they may be purchased online.
- Books of Common Prayer, or smart phones that can access the BCP, for each participant. Hymnals optional.
- A bible (or smartphone; you can access a free New Revised Standard Version at bible.oremus.org) for each participant.
- Newsprint and markers.
- Writing utensils for participants.
- For optional craft activity: news magazines/newspapers, scissors, glue, poster board.
- Participants will be able to articulate where they have met Jesus in their daily lives.
- Participants will be prepared to pray through the journal in a way that is most helpful to them.
Special Reminders about leading a Teen Small Group:
- Give explicit permission for teens to think that something is boring, stupid, or irrelevant. Give them opportunities to voice these feelings in a constructive way, and be ready to move onto a new question or activity that resonates with the group. For this reason, this curriculum provides many discussion questions and activity options. Feel free to add pertinent activities and questions that you know will work for your group; if something really works, we would love to hear about it: firstname.lastname@example.org and it may get incorporated into an updated version of this curriculum. (We’ll be sure to give you a shout out!)
- If an activity or conversation is going great, don’t stop. If it’s not working, stop! If the discussion is eliciting a lot of engagement and bringing up real concerns and issues, let it keep going even if it’s veered away from what you’re “supposed” to be talking about. However, if the discussion has veered into utter silliness, this is probably a sign that your teens are bored and ready to move into a different activity or a need an opportunity to stand up and move around.
- With some groups, thoughtful discussion will really work. For other groups, not so much. As you gain experience with your group, try to anticipate what will work best for your teens.
- Don’t be afraid to talk honestly about real issues. Teens can smell inauthenticity a mile away and crave honest discussion about things that matter with their peers and adults who are not their parents. That being said, it may take a while to build trust with your teens. Just be a trustworthy adult in their life. It matters more than you know.
- Sometimes teens have very adult struggles. Sometimes they don’t. Both are okay. Be present to them regardless.
Have the teen facilitator open in prayer, or invite one of the other teens to do so. You can invite them to pray spontaneously, or you can use this prayer:
Loving God, you gave us your Son Jesus Christ so that all may be drawn to him. We ask you to bless our time together, and to give us grace and courage to meet Jesus wherever he may be found. We ask this by the grace of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Check-in may take longer this session than the allotted 20 minutes, as your group gets to know one another, and that is perfectly fine. Simply shorten the time of your guided conversation to ensure everyone gets out of small group on time.
This is a good time for you as facilitator to get the pulse of your group. Who are the quiet members who might need to be drawn out? Who are the “happy to talk” participants who will need a gentle nudge to let others speak? See the facilitator’s’ guide on Pitfalls and Troubleshooting.
There are several ways to do check-in. Of course, you may start with one person and go around the circle. However, we recommend either the process of mutual invitation as outlined by the Kaleidoscope Institute or simply allow participants to speak when they are ready. (Briefly, mutual invitation is a process where the group leader invites someone to speak, and after that person is done speaking, she invites the next person to speak. The person who is invited may pass if he likes, and invite someone else. This continues until everyone has been given the opportunity to speak.)
For this first check-in session, we recommend asking three questions. Don’t move along to the next question until everyone has either answered or passed. Be sure to re-invite those who passed at the beginning to see if they would like to add anything before you move on to the next question. You might consider writing these questions on a flipchart or whiteboard for those in the group who are not auditory learners.
- What is your name?
- Why are you here?
- What do you hope for in this experience?
You can also pick one of these icebreaker questions, or make up your own.
- What do you wish someone knew about you before they met you?
- Who is your favorite Muppet? (This is very telling about personality. Winnie the Pooh characters/superheroes are also enlightening.)
- If you met Jesus and could only ask one question, what would you ask?
Small Group Activity:
In the sessions that follow this one, the small group activities will be much more hands-on and geared for teens. Those activities are optional as you sort through what might work with your group, and what might not.
However, the following activities are designed to help your group get off to a good start, and we strongly recommend that the group does both of these activities. The first activity is setting expectations/group norms, which is particularly important for teens. The second activity is orientation to the prayer journal.
This exercise is designed to help set norms for your small group. Norms are the expected standard of behavior for a social group, and setting them at the beginning will help the group function smoothly. When everyone engages with the norm-making and feels a part of the discussion, participants are more likely to adhere to the norms and help the group self-regulate.
While complete consensus isn’t necessary, there should be general agreement about the norms. Some groups will find this a very simple exercise, others will have more of a back-and-forth.
Post a large piece of newsprint where everyone can see it. Ask your participants what guidelines they think will be helpful for making everyone feel safe and accepted during their small group time.
Here are recommended items for discussion:
- Confidentiality. Can members discuss what happens in group with other members outside of group time? Can members post pictures on social media? (One often-reached decision is that conversations stay in the group unless the person who shared gives explicit permission for someone else to share their story outside of group.)
- Use of technology. Should devices be entirely off and stacked on the table, or should they just be silenced? Are there exceptions to this rule?
- How will group members signal they would like to add something to the discussion?
- What kind of listening should group members participate in? Will they be silent or respond with thoughts and feelings?
- Attendance. How often are members expected to be there? What constitutes a valid excuse?
- Arriving on time.
- Preparing before the session. (This curriculum is designed so that no one must do the journal in order to fully participate in the discussion, however, group and personal prayer life will be enhanced if everyone is participating in the weekday activities.)
- How will members of the group pray for one another?
- Housekeeping. Who will lead worship or bring snacks/meal? Who will help clean up? How will these tasks be divided up? What will be the mechanism for reminders?
As items are discussed and consensus reached, write the norms on the newsprint. At the end of the session, take the newsprint down and save it for the next week. You may either use the newsprint from week to week, or type it up and print it out/email it to participants. If you print it out, be sure to either make the font big enough it can be seen across the room, or make a copy for each individual.
Groups usually don’t need to walk through their norms at the beginning of every session. However, if the group or one particular member consistently breaks the norms, referencing the group norms before check-in may be a helpful exercise to keep your group dynamics under control. You can also reference the norms the group decided during the session if a behavior is becoming a distraction. “I’m sorry Olivia, but the group decided that we would not be texting during the session. Is this an emergency?” or “Jake, remember it’s our policy not to interrupt others while they are talking. Please wait for Ava to finish.”
After the norms are set, remind participants that the norms can be revisited at a later session if they are not working for the group.
This exercise is designed to familiarize the participants with their prayer journal. When participants know how many different ways they can engage with the journal, and how simple it really can be, they will be more likely to use it. This will lead to more fruitful discussions during your time together.
- Pass out the prayer journals to participants
- Turn to page 5 and invite different members of the group to read through the bullet points.
- Explain that there is no wrong way to use this journal. You can:
- Write in the journal
- Draw in the journal
- Respond silently in prayer (although it may be good to jot down some thoughts after your prayer time)
- Use your imagination to imagine yourself in the scriptural story
- Call a prayer partner and talk through it
- Post online using #MeetingJesus on your preferred platform
- Create a photo journal
- Respond creatively to the journal in another way
- Emphasize that the discussions each week will be informed by their personal work in the journal, but if they get off track and don’t end up responding as faithfully as they would have liked, they can still come and participate fully in the conversation each week.
To show participants how simple responding in prayer to the journal can be, walk them through praying with the journal. Pass out writing utensils. Invite the group to turn to Week One Day One, or choose a page at random. Ask a volunteer read. After a period of silence, ask another reader to read the same reading. Invite participants to reflect silently, or write a response in the book.
After a period of five minutes, process the experience with the group. Ask questions like, “How was that for you?” or “What surprised you about your time reflecting on the scripture?” This is also a good time to have a conversation about the content. You can ask, “Would anyone like to share something that they thought of while reflecting on this verse?” or “How does this verse relate to your life?”
For the teen curriculum, we usually offer three activity options. The first will engages with technology, the second is a craft, and the third is a game of some sort. Because you will likely run short on time for the first session after a long check-in and orientation to group norms and the journal, we’re providing only one for this session.
Craft: Meeting Jesus
In this activity, participants reflect on ways they meet Jesus in the faces of other people.
Needed Materials: news magazines/newspapers (preferably not fashion magazines; aim for a diversity of socio-economic status, ethnicity, and age), scissors, glue, one piece of posterboard.
Have the teens cut out pictures of people they see in the magazines, and arrange them on the posterboard so that the pictures form the shape of a cross, spell “Jesus,” or signify Jesus in another way.
Invite the teens to talk about how they see Jesus in each of these people. What do they have in common with Jesus, who was a real person with a real body? How can they better learn to see Jesus in the people around them?
Small Group Conversation:
Directed conversation is the heart of a small group, and can be especially helpful for teens as they figure out who they are and process their new life experiences. Some groups will be very good at these conversations, others will not initially be good at these conversations and will get better, and other groups will need a lot of help, or different approaches, like starting your conversations around group activities. It depends on your teens.
Here are some questions to get your conversation started. It may be that you move through all of them, or have a deep conversation with the first question you ask. You may choose to ask your own question that speaks to the needs of your group. What matters is that participants are engaged with each other. These questions are based on the experience of the God in individual lives, and responses will be unique to each person. There is no right or wrong answers, there is only further discussion and exploration of our relationship with God and one another.
Sharing our personal stories and accounts of faith is only possible in an atmosphere of trust and mutuality. Tips for a fruitful conversation can be found here.
Questions for Discussion:
When were you first introduced to Jesus? What was your first impression of Jesus?
Take some time to imagine meeting Jesus at a party. What is he doing? What is he eating or drinking? What is he talking about? What kind of party game is Jesus’ favorite?
Imagine Jesus on [insert the favorite social media platform of the week here]. What would Jesus post about?
What do you think it means to “know” Jesus? How can we know Jesus?
Imagine that you’re having a conversation and the topic of Jesus comes up. This person has never heard about Jesus, but is genuinely curious. What words would you use to describe Jesus? What else do you tell this person about Jesus?
Digging Deeper into Scripture with John:
Sometimes it helps to have a text to work with as the group talks about a topic. This story about meeting Jesus is found in John 1:43-50. Invite teens to get out their bibles and invite someone to read:
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”
- Invite the group to imagine Nathanael walking down the road to Jesus. What is he wearing? What is the weather like? What does the scenery look like? What does Jesus look like? What kind of expression does Jesus have on his face? What does Nathanael look like he’s thinking about?
- What was Nathanael’s initial reaction to hearing about Jesus? Why?
- What can this story tell us about how we come to know Jesus?
- What can Philip’s reaction teach us about talking about Jesus?
- What can this story tell us about how Jesus knows us?
- What are the “greater things” that Nathanael will see? What are the “greater things” that you have seen in your own life?
Keep an eye on the time, and be mindful of it. Start to wrap up the conversation period when there is about twenty minutes left in the session. Be sure to invite anyone who hasn’t shared much to share more if they would like.
Invite group members to share feedback with each other by using one of these prompts:
- Where did the group have a lot of energy? Where was the energy lacking?
- Where did you feel close to God? Where did you feel far away from God?
- Where did you meet Jesus in your session today?
- Where did you see light from the Holy Spirit?
- What did you notice about our time together?
- [If short on time!] Please describe our time together in one word.
- Remind group members that they will start with Week One Day One in their journal (page 8) tomorrow. The theme of the upcoming week is God is Love.
- Remind participants that videos are available online, and that the social media campaign will be starting if they would like to participate online.
- Ask for a volunteer to lead worship next week, if this hasn’t already been decided.
- If there is a meal or refreshments, remind the group of their decisions regarding food and clean-up, or ask for volunteers.
Worship is the time we give thanks to God for all the gifts of our life and for our time together. Because Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John is a gift of the Society for Saint John the Evangelist, a monastic order in the Episcopal church, we recommend using the Daily Office, which is a cornerstone of monastic life.
We recommend that group leaders (teen and adult) take time to plan the worship before the session but that teen participants do the reading, supplication, music leading, etc. Worship with teens can be low-maintenance as you like, the instructions are straightforward and in the BCP, or it can be quite elaborate. This will depend on your group and your available resources. However, making time for worship is actually crucial for creating a group that bonds together. Always be sure to end your sessions with enough time to pray together at the end.
Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families, found on pages 136-140 of the Book of Common Prayer, offers a wonderful and simple framework for your prayer time together. You may choose to use the recommended psalms and readings found in the BCP; supplement with our recommended readings; prayers and songs; or choose your own. Hymns may be sung a capella, or read as poetry. Be sure to make time for prayer intercessions, and encourage the group to pray for one another and loved ones.
For the week of Meeting Jesus, we recommend:
- Scripture: 1 John 4:7-13
- Hymn: O Love of God, how strong and true (Hymnal 1982 #455)
- Collect: A General Thanksgiving (BCP 836)
If your group is meeting in the evening, you may also wish to use the service of Compline, found on page 127. This is a brief, beautiful, and very popular service.
Your worship leader may wish to do something more creative or context-specific, like use another liturgy, lead a meditation, invite participants into silence, lead participants in song, or use prayer beads together. There are many other ways to worship God. Taking into consideration the theme for the week, we invite you to explore what that might look like together.