I love leading small group discussions with middle and high school students. As a youth minister, seeing the faith through the eyes of middle school teens gives me a constantly refreshed perspective. Teenagers have a lot of questions as they encounter aspects of the faith. With seven years of experience, their insights still surprise me. The teens and I both grow through the discussions; I come away with a new appreciation for familiar truths and they are awakened to something novel about what it means to be Catholic.
Faith sharing small groups (faith-centered conversation directed by a leader, casually referred to as “small groups”) are good for Catholics of all ages. Teens grow in their faith through actively participating with their family and traditional classroom study, but being part of a small group and engaging with their peers is also a key to them owning their Catholic faith.
When was the last time you heard a middle schooler discussing the merits of a particular virtue in St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body on their own? Secular culture does all it can to invade a teens’ world, to suggest to them what brands to buy, what social media to be on and how to view their identity. Young people are capable of great depth, but the conversation topics they are presented within their average day don’t engage them on a spiritual level.
Being in a small group gives teens the opportunity to voice their questions and receive truth. A small group leader or even a peer may have a way of phrasing the same teaching that is being given at home that breaks open that idea for your teen or helps them understand the importance of it. A teen who is informed and affirmed in their search for truth at home and by a small group will fare far better when their faith is challenged than a teen who is put on the spot by potentially unsympathetic peers or adults and has never been asked to put their faith into words.
Discover an interior life
Consolation vs. desolation? Hearing God’s voice in scripture? Discussing the Catholic faith can seem like it requires learning a foreign language. This is especially true when it comes to the words used to talk about an active prayer life. Being in a small group challenges teens to find words to explain what they experience spiritually in conversation. Hearing and using Catholic language in small groups sets them up to be able to grow and communicate more in their high school years.
Manners matter. Being part of a group discussion means paying attention to others around you, knowing when it’s your turn to share and when to listen. Well-run small groups invite each teen to grow; in an intimate setting wallflowers can’t vanish and divas can’t hog the attention.
Especially in a post-pandemic world, teens come to social interaction hungry for attention, but unsure of how to give it to others around them. Small group interactions, from body posture to the tone of voice, remind teens who have been oversaturated with screen time that human relationships are about more than instant self-gratification.
Know you’re not alone
Adolescence is frequently a time of high anxiety. Teens are anxious to be perceived well and even teens with affirming parents can be easy prey for one of Satan’s go-to lies: you are the only person who has ever struggled with (insert any issue). Teens go to great lengths to hide their pain and assume that everyone else has it together. Being part of a small group means they hear that their peers and adult leaders alike also have struggles. They discover they are not alone and gain confidence in asking for help.
Build a relationship with God
Teenage brains are primed to memorize information and see the world in black and white. So when you ask a faith-based question, they want to give the “right” answer. Small groups challenge teens to not only know their faith but to live it and make connections between knowledge and practical application in daily life. While knowledge of catechesis is important, small group discussions bring textbook theology to life: ow is a particular aspect of faith or doctrine lived? Teens can’t hide behind a memorized answer but discover that God and their fellow Catholics will meet them where they are at.
Get involved in a small group today!