Are you starting new? Or starting over?
Gracious, either way can be hard. You may have just graduated a group of girls that had your heart and now you’re trying to make room for new, hesitant faces. I have been there and missed the level of comfort and vulnerability we worked so hard to cultivate, I then took for granted. I missed that I never had to second guess when they said a name, because I knew that was their dog or basketball coach.
You may have just changed groups because that served the student ministry best. I have been there and felt the tension seeing those girls from my previous group and trying to explain to them what I didn’t totally understand myself.
You may be starting totally fresh, so eager and excited to get to do one of the most fun things—discipling teen girls.
Wherever you are and however you got there, how do we begin?
Jump all the way in.You likely already know by now as well as I do that these girls can read you like a book. They see through superficial in about 5 seconds so jump right in by sharing who you are. Tell them why you are passionate about being in their lives, share your story of walking with Jesus, and set some expectations for your group. Learn about them beyond their names and schools, as well as what they are involved in. Create some shared experiences so you can watch them interact, and not just in small group time. Play games or make a Super Bowl party so you can learn who naturally pairs with who, who sinks into the background, and who keeps everyone laughing.
Be careful not to compare to other groups.I still am trying to figure this out myself, but this group of girls deserves to be seen and loved for exactly who they are and where they are. It’s difficult when we try to compare levels of comfort and connection with girls we led for 3-4 years to girls we’ve known for 3-4 minutes. Enter with an open mind and let the girls in front of you be exactly who they are and adjust to what they need, which won’t always be what worked so well for previous groups.
Listen, Love, and Lean in.It can be discouraging to have to start all over, but now is the time for you to put in the work of proving to these girls you are there for them and there to stay. Sit in the bleachers at tennis matches, bring flowers to their dance recitals, and plan a fun Galentine’s Party. You are building the relational foundation for beautiful, deep ministry ahead.
It’s okay to acknowledge if this feels a little lonely at first.I think we can glorify ministry and skip over that we are real people with real feelings. Starting a new group with unfamiliar faces will feel lonely. You will miss the warmth and connection of the little family you just worked so hard to build or you will expect your group to click so much faster than it does. It is lonely and there will be weeks of great discouragement when everyone misses for homework or it seems these girls may never gel, but DO NOT GIVE UP. There will be lonely nights and awkward group times, but they will just be steps on the way to leading these girls to know and love Jesus with all of their hearts and they will not turn back from it all the days of their lives.
Wherever you are starting, you are doing incredible work. Keep leaning in, loving, and investing no matter how many times you feel like you are hitting a wall. You are doing the work of showing them that they matter, that their Father loves them, and that He has such incredible things in store for them. Now is the time, because they graduate way too soon and begin the trajectory for the rest of their lives! Wherever you are, thank you for getting started and for jumping in no matter your fears or hesitations. And even though they may never show it, your girls are more grateful than they realize. But they will never forget that you started, you showed up, and you cared.
Emily Katherine Johnson lives in Rome, GA serving as the Coordinator of Discipleship Programming with the WinShape College Program and just married her best friend, Emery! EmK fell in love with girls ministry in her own student ministry in Spartanburg, SC and still enjoys mentoring middle and high school girls. Emily Katherine has a Masters of Divinity in Christian Education from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and she recently released a book on authenticity and grief entitled, Let’s Be Real! Connect with Emily Katherine: Website // Instagram