Matt: This is a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately. I have a whole new group of freshmen coming to my high school small group in the fall and I want to be able to figure out where they are spiritually. Once you assess your group as a whole you can begin planning out what lessons you need to do and the depth you can go. You don’t want to confuse new believers and at the same time you don’t want to bore those who are further along on their walk with God. Here’s what I’m going to do:
1. Talk with their former leaders and get a heads up on each student. You may already know who their former leaders are and if not you can ask someone on your student ministry team if they can help you with this. I’m not looking for confidential information that students have shared with their former leaders, I just want to know where they are spiritually.
2. I know there are different “spiritual assessment” tests you can give students but I’d rather have a one-on-one conversation with a student. I think often times it’s too easy to put a different answer on an assessment test so that I can make you think I’m something I’m not. I worry that at first students might be more interesting in telling me what they think I want to hear than what is actually going on with them.
3. I mentioned it above, a one-on-one discussion over food or ice cream or Starbucks is a great way to figure out where students are with God. It also helps you start to build a relationship with them and at the same time they can learn more about you and begin to get more comfortable with their new leaders.
4. Pray. Ask God for help in showing you where each of your students are spiritually and what they need to know.
Steven: Both Matt and myself are going to be getting brand new groups of students, and I’m sure there are a ton of leaders that read this that are also gearing up for new students. So how do we assess our students and find out where to start with them?
First, realize that every student is at a different level. Even in a small group setting, you’ll have students that run the whole spectrum of spiritual-connectedness (not sure if that’s a real word). In my group this year, I had one kid who knew more about the Bible than I did (and I’m a biblical studies major), but I also had students who heard the Gospel for the first time.
Like Matt said above, I totally believe that one on one conversations are the best way to assess where a student is with God. In a group setting, it’s easy to hide behind what other people say and we as leaders can’t count on honest answers. One on one, students have more of a tendency to be real. Especially in the beginning, they probably feel safer in that type of setting too.
The last important thing to remember is to constantly re-evaluate. It’s great to get an initial reading, but things change with junior high and high school students super quickly. Every couple of months, be sure to look at where they are and how they’ve grown.