In Volume 3 of Grow Youth Ministry Curriculum and Strategy, we’re trying something special with our series called Doubt It! Here’s an article from the author (Irene Cho) to help you create and lead through this unique set-up.
If you typically teach in a sermon format with discussion afterward, we recommend trying something new for the Doubt It series.
For this series, have your students sit in circles in groups of 6 or 8 (with one adult per circle) for the entire teaching time. If you already have small groups assigned, split students into their regular small groups for the entire teaching time. If you don’t already have regular small groups, try splitting students by grade, gender, school, or some combination of all three, so it’s easy for students to understand where to sit. Just make sure every group has an adult leader!
Your circles should be spread throughout the room. If possible, the speaker should be teaching from the center of the room, with the circles arranged around them. If that’s not possible, have your speaker walk around the room as they teach in order to engage every student. Your set-up should look a little something like this . . .
A very important note is that there should be no tables in your circles. The chairs should be as close together as possible so that students are engaged with each other in their circles during discussion time. Tables act as barriers and prevent a deeper engagement with one another, so skip those!
WHY CIRCLE DISCUSSIONS WORK
When students engage in discussion throughout your teaching time, they are able to process the ideas and practice the skills being presented by you, or the speaker. In other words, discussion circles are where students actually learn what’s being taught.
Experience has proven that students learn lifestyle principles and behavioral changes most effectively in community, with their peers, apart from the (potentially) hovering presence of an adult. It’s up to the adults in the room to ensure that students get into these discussion circles and have space to process and learn.
As a result of this experience, students should be able to go deeper with what they’re learning, feel safe and connected to their circles, and build deeper friendships with each other.
WHO SHOULD BE IN EACH CIRCLE
There are various ways to decide how circles should be formed. Some groups might choose to stay with students’ weekly small groups (if applicable). Some groups might opt for gender-specific groups, while others might allow random students in each group. It really depends on your ministry context and your students.
If you feel that there are too many cliques amongst your students, then mixing up who goes in each circle could be a very good thing. If you feel that there are deeper issues that need to be opened up within an already-existing small group, then keeping them in the same circle throughout the series could be a good thing.
Circles are intended to create an environment that will give students the freedom to be themselves, rather than the people they’re supposed to be or pretend to be in front of friends and leaders.
Each circle should have an even number of students, if possible. Eight works best but six would work too. Having an even number of students in each circle is important so that students can pair off into groups of two for certain questions or activities.
HOW TO INTRODUCE DISCUSSION CIRCLES
Here is a script you can use to explain these circles to your students.
So you may be asking why we’ve decided to put you together in these weird circles. Well, it’s because the next few weeks are really all for you and they’re really all about you. What does that mean? It means that whatever you decide to learn, grasp, take home with – it’s all dependent on what happens in your circles.
Your circles will allow you to process and practice the skills we’re going to work on each time we’re together. What happens in your circle is more important than anything the speaker says. The things that are taught, you could probably read from a book. But it’s within your circle where you’ll turn the teaching into your learning — by grappling with it, adapting it, personalizing it, and practicing it. That means your success in learning what’s presented depends on what you do in your circle. So….
- Respect the members in your circle by contributing to the discussion with openness and honesty. If no one’s talking, you be the gutsy one and break the silence. Others will follow.
- Respect others by listening when they share. It’s okay to disagree, but do so with gentleness and respect — just as you’ll want to be treated when someone disagrees with you.
- Respect your circle by engaging. If you’re not part of the conversation and you’re looking at your phone or daydreaming, you cheat the other members of your circle.
In case you haven’t caught on yet, respect is a huge thing here. Everyone gives respect, and everyone gets respect.
Here’s the promise: If you do these things, you’ll strengthen your friendships in amazing ways and gain the understanding, skills, and confidence to talk about your faith.