By Annie Grandell
It has been said that “content is king.” At YDisciple, we believe that “context is king.” Content will only go so far if the teens in your group are not comfortable and have not built trust with the people in their small group. That said, the content, the teaching substance, of your small groups is still incredibly important. After all, we are literally teaching about the most important things in life. Whether you are choosing content for your Confirmation small groups or for groups that have formed organically, we can make a number of mistakes when it comes to the content itself.
1. “It’s always worked.”
I had used this video before. The speaker (one of my favorites!) was energetic. He made his point clearly and used solid theology to back it up. I’d been using this video for years and was excited to share it again with my new small group. I showed it, asked them what stood out to them, and then they said, “His iPhone 4.” Yup. Amidst all the amazing truth bombs he dropped, they saw his outdated phone, got distracted, and heard nothing else.
Many ministry tools have a shelflife. We can make the mistake of thinking that because it was really effective a few years ago, it will still be effective now. The culture is moving at Mach 5. If we are still referencing “Twilight,” we will give ourselves away as out of touch. And we don’t want to be relevant just for the sake of looking “hip and cool.”* We need to demonstrate that we actually care about them and the world in which they live. Even more so, we don’t want the truth of Jesus and his Church to be lost because of an old iPhone. As a general rule, video content has a maximum shelflife of 4 years.
*By the way, if you say “hip and cool,” you are probably neither.
2. Overusing videos
Videos are great for jumpstarting discussion and articulating important theological truths clearly, but videos are only a tool. If you show your small group videos every single time you meet, you will find the law of diminishing returns will come to bear; they will become increasingly less effective. Instead, we suggest taking a break from videos regularly. Most YDisciple series are packaged in four sessions. After you finish a series, DO NOT move on to another video series. Stop. Do something social together, like making dinner at someone’s house. Do a service project. Go to adoration. Just don’t show more videos. Or [dramatic pause], read a book together! When you take breaks, they will be more likely to engage with the videos when you come back to them.
3. Brand loyalty
Just because you are using YDisciple doesn’t mean you have to use exclusively YDisciple content. We are more concerned that you create a culture of small group discipleship than that you use our video products. We live in a golden age of Catholic youth ministry resources. Branch out! Check out some of the great things that Life Teen, Ascension, and Alpha are putting out there. Then use them in the context you have learned from YDisciple.
4. (You) Choosing the Content
One of the biggest mistakes I made as a youth minister when I chose content was me choosing all the content. I know this feels counterintuitive, but if we want teenagers to take ownership of their faith, we need to give them opportunities to actually do so. Instead of setting the curriculum at the beginning of the year, every time you finish a series, ask them what series they want to do next. A powerful thing will happen because you respected them enough to ask them; they will engage. They’ll engage because it was their choice, not content that was thrust on them. No one is interested in questions they are not asking, whether you’re a teen or an adult.
Whether you are a volunteer leader or a paid staff member of your parish, take some time to step back and look at the content of your small groups. Evaluate. Ask yourself if it really is effective, then don’t be afraid to try something new!