Ever had a student show up at your church and immediately feel out of place because no one he or she knew was at church? Maybe the student was just new and didn’t know many people yet. Either way, we wanted to create a group of people with two leaders who would help make sure that each student always has people he or she is connected to while at Ephesus. Squad leaders also check in with their squad members from time to time to see how things are going and to encourage them to keep doing the things in life that God wants them to be doing. “Squad” is just the term we use, but other terms such as “crew”, “team”, “group”, etc. work just as well. We are extremely passionate about this strategy and we have seen it accomplish some amazing things within our student ministry. This strategy has helped us create more cohesiveness in our student ministry while also developing better student leaders within our student ministry.
In the student ministry at Ephesus, a squad is a group of students that Squad Leaders selected to be on their squad through a drafting process. Squads are made up of guys and girls from different schools and different grades so that people can meet new people in the student ministry and make new friends.
A few times through out the year we have Squad Nights on Wednesday nights. On these nights Jonathon preaches a shorter message and gives squads time to get together on their own and discuss what the message was about. It also gives time for squad members to catch up on what’s going on in each other’s lives.
A Squad Leader is a high school student who has taken the time to go through student leadership training that we offer on Wednesday nights during the summer. Following the training, they commit to selecting a group of students to be a part of their “squad” and to encourage and support those students for the next year while in the student ministry.
Recruiting Squad Leaders
Recruiting Squad Leaders
To begin the Squad Strategy, you need to identify potential leaders within your student ministry. Here are a few guidelines we recommend when selecting your leaders:
- Should be a student that is entering 9th - 12th grade.
- Should be well thought of by others students.
- Should be willing to talk in front of a group of his or her peers.
- Should be actively involved in the student ministry.
- Should show a certain degree of commitment by participating in at least a few training sessions.
The goal is to have 1 leader for every 5 students in your student ministry. This ratio will allow you to have a squad of about 10 people with a pair of squad leaders for each squad. (Our first year we had a void of leadership, so we had to begin with 1 leader for every 10 students.) If you can't start with a 1 to 5 ratio, just get as close to that as you can. The lower the ratio, the easier it will be for your leaders to stay connected with the students in their squad.
The key is to clarify with your leaders the expectations from the start, and inform them that with any leadership role comes the expectation of accountability. We let our leaders know what standard we will hold them to, and then we hold them accountable by addressing anything a leader does that might jeopardize his or her image as a Christ following leader.
Putting together an application and having potential leaders fill it out is a great way to get them started in the process.
For us, we also try to reassure our potential squad leaders by letting them know that they don't have to be willing to preach or counsel other students. Here are the expectations we share with them:
- Be actively involved in the student ministry going forward
- Help students feel welcome at EBC as a part of your squad
- Set a good example inside and outside church of what a Christ follower looks like. (You don't have to be perfect, but your reputation shouldn't be a sketchy one.)
- Be willing to put some effort into getting to know the students that you don't know very well
- Be willing to work at your ability to talk scripture and spiritual things with the people in your squad
- Be willing to go through some training
- Get together a few times throughout the year for awesome Squad Leader Only events
Again, make these expectations clear and then hopefully God will lead some of your best students to take on the responsibility of being a squad leader. Once you have your leaders, you are ready to begin training them to be Squad Leaders.
Training Squad Leaders
Training Squad Leaders
In our first gathering with our future squad leaders, we did a few key exercises to help them better understand why we decided to implement the squads strategy. Here are those exercises:
First, we asked the leaders to take 5 minutes to write down the names of all the students they knew in our youth group. Correct spelling, last names, etc. did not matter; we just wanted them to see how many students they could list. The longest list made had 37 people on it. We had about 150 students who considered themselves to be part of our youth group.
Next, if possible, call out the names of some students who actively attend but you think tend to go unnoticed or unknown by the students who are in leadership training. Chances are some of the students that are around all the time can go unknown by some or all of the key leadership students in the youth group. This problem is the exact reason why we started the squad strategy and it also helped us to get buy-in from students who would become our squad leaders.
After the reality check of realizing that we have students who go unnoticed, we roll out a plan to address the problem. We begin this process by giving our squad leaders a list of all 150 or so students who claim to be a part of our student ministry. With that list in hand, we ask the leader-in-training to notate how well they know each student on the list by using one of 3 designations.
IDK - I don’t know that student
KK - I kinda know that students
KW - I know that student well
Once they go through the list, chances are they will realize there are a lot of students they do not know. This is another reminder of how important and needed the squads strategy is.
Since we begin training future squad leaders at the beginning of summer, we encourage those leaders in training to begin to get to know the people on their list that they designated as IDK’s. This works great because we have all kinds of summer activities and events where soon to be squad leaders can get to know students that started as IDK’s for them. Getting to know as many students as possible is very beneficial for them and you can remind them that every single student will be drafted on to a squad.
Let your leaders in training know that they can use their youth leader, adult chaperones, and even other students as a way to start putting names to the faces they see around the youth group. After a summer of getting to know as many students as possible, squads can be drafted right as school gets started in August.
Like any other effort to “train” students, training future squad leaders can also be difficult. For students going through our leadership training to become a squad leader, we were looking for a good resource that we could use to develop them into squad leaders with the right kind of mentality about their new leadership role.
A great resource we came across and ended up using is the book “Heart of a Disciple Maker” by Tim Lafleur. This book provided a great opportunity for us to shift the mentality of our students from being ministry consumers to ministry contributors.
The book is pretty small and a very easy read. It is intended to prepare people’s hearts to be disciple makers, and Tim wrote it to compliment the D-Group approach of making disciples that his church uses. While Squad Leaders will not be leading D-Groups, the content still worked well for us.
We walked the leaders in training through a couple of chapters of the book each time we got together. A total of 8 chapters can be covered in 4 sessions following that schedule. We typically do 4 training sessions total plus a draft meeting with our squad leaders who are going through training.
In the book Tim uses two terms often. He refers to disciple makers and disciples. We told our leaders in training to think of the term Squad Leader every time they saw “disciple maker” in the book. We told them to think of squad members every time they saw “disciple” in the book. As we went through the book they began to see the power and potential they have if they simply begin to see themselves as students who are capable of making more committed followers of Christ.
the reality draft
the reality draft
After your squad leaders have been trained, coached up, and have gotten to know as many students in the youth group as they could, then you are ready to have a Squad Draft. The draft is the best way to get students into squads because it prevents squad leaders from fighting over certain people and it also ensures all of your students can get placed on a squad. It may sound crazy but this approach works very similarly to a fantasy football draft with a few adjustments thrown in. This draft process works great for us, so make sure you follow these key tips in order to make sure your draft accomplishes the goals for our squads strategy. As with anything, you may need to make adjustments to fit your context and so feel free to do that.
First thing you need to do is to categorize your students. This necessary step may seem uncomfortable and intensive, but it is vital. Before the draft I do the work of categorizing our students into 5 categories. On one sheet of paper that squad leaders use as a draft guide, we categorize students this way:
Priority 1: Students that we have not seen in a while and are at high risk of no longer being involved in youth group.
Priority 2: Students that need their connection to the student ministry strengthened ASAP or we run the risk of losing them.
Priority 3: The rookies. For us these are 7th graders in the student ministry who are brand new to youth group.
Priority 4: New people who began attending recently but are not 7th graders.
Priority 5: The core of your youth group. These are the students that are around a majority of the time and will be in the youth group for the upcoming year.
I do explain to the squad leaders what the different categories mean. I ask them to keep this information private so that no ones feelings get hurt. Our squad leaders have traditionally done a great job with honoring this request to keep this info private. Once you have your students categorized, then you can determine how to pair your squad leaders together.
Our goal is to have 2 squad leaders (1 guy and 1 girl) for each squad. Our first year we did not end up with enough guys, so one squad needed up with two girl leaders. When pairing Squad Leaders together there are a few guidelines that we try to go by to make our squads as strong and strategic as possible.
We try to pair a guy and girl who are in different grades.
We try to make each person in the pair from different schools or at least different friend groups. (This keeps the squads from becoming cliques within the youth group.)
We try to have the pair combination be done in a way that strengths and weakness between the two students are compliments to each other. (Outspoken paired with quieter, experienced with in-experienced, take charge personality with and more laid back personality.)
This is something we learned later in the process, but it would be best to implement it at the beginning of putting squads together. Choose some type of order in which they can pick, and then let the squad leader pairs choose a color for their squad. Try to keep them as close to the most primary/popular colors as possible. These colors will come in handy for everything from ordering colored lanyards for the different squad leader pairs, to giving students a color they can wear to squad nights that helps represent their squads. We even figured out that having paper wristbands in the different colors that are available on Amazon, gave us an easy way of distinguishing which squad a students is on when they come through the door on Squad Nights. I assigned the colors to our squad leaders later in the process, but they shared frequently with me that they wished they had the opportunity to pick their squad color.
Once leader pairs are made and colors have been chosen, you can now get your draft going. As with any draft, you have to determine the order and method that will be used to select the students. We recommend determining the draft order on your own instead of letting that be determined by random drawing. Being strategic with the draft order will help you make sure your squads are strong. We also recommend using what is called a Snake Draft order. A snake draft means that in the first round the pick order is 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 for example. However, for round two the order reverses. This means that the squad that picked last in the first found actually picks again as the first pick of the second round (8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1). This pattern continues back and forth until the entire draft has been completed.
As for which squad drafts in which position, there needs to be some strategy put in place. Here is what we recommend for a draft order if you go with the snake draft order. This example is for 8 squads but can be adjusted to fit whatever number of squads you have.
Pick 1: Squad Leaders who are your least experienced leaders or who know very few students in the youth group
Pick 2: Squad Leaders with a little bit of experience and who know maybe a few more people
Pick 3: Squad Leaders with a bit more experience and know even more people in the youth group
Pick 4: Squad Leaders with the most experience and/or who know the most people in youth group
Pick 5: Squad Leaders with the most experience and/or who know the most people in youth group
Pick 6: Squad Leaders with a bit more experience and know even more people in the youth group
Pick 7: Squad Leaders with a little bit of experience and who know maybe a few more people
Pick 8: Squad Leaders who are your least experienced leaders or who know very few students in the youth group
Remember that the draft order reverses so that is why our squads leaders who are least experienced bookend the draft order to ensure that they get to pick the student that they most prefer.
Once the draft order has been established the next thing you want to do is to ensure that the draft goes the way it needs to in order to make the squads as strong as possible. To make sure we do our best we actually apply rules to each round to make sure we get students onto squads in the best way we can. In the drafting process we encourage the guy squad leader to determine mostly what guys are picked and for the girl squad leader to do the same on the girls side. Having gender pick same gender makes staying in contact and communication easier once squads are forms. Here are the additional rules we have for each round of the draft:
Round 1: A guy who is younger than the male squad leader but is a guy the leaders think has potential to be a future squad leader.
Round 2: A girl who is younger than the girl squad leader but is a girl the leaders think has potential to be a future squad leader.
Having these types of students picked in the first two rounds will allow you to know who your students think might make a good future squad leader. It also gives them an apprentice to mentor throughout the upcoming year in an effort to help them improve their leadership skills too.
Rounds 3 & 4 (Can go more or less rounds if needed): Students that we have not seen in a while and are at high risk of no longer being involved in youth group. Getting these students drafted early raises the chances that they get picked by a Squad Leader who actually knows them.
Rounds 5 & 6 (Can go more or less rounds if needed): Students that need their connection to the student ministry strengthened ASAP or we run the risk of losing them.
Rounds 7 & 8 (Can go more or less rounds if needed): The new 7th graders and/or new students who just started coming regularly
All Remaining Rounds: The core of your youth group. These are the students that are around a majority of the time and will be in the youth group for the upcoming year.
When we get down to such a low number of students that we cannot make it through another round because we don’t have enough people, I stop the draft. This keeps a student from being a last pick while also allowing me to strategically place the students who have gone unselected for some reason.
Once the draft is completed we ask the squad leaders to keep who is one each squad a secret until our first squad night where we announce that information for the first time.
We take the time after the draft to organize important information on each student so that their squad leaders can begin to connect with them following the first squad night. Information we typically include at the beginning of the year is name, grade, school, and phone number for each person on the squad.
After all of these things take place you are ready for your first Squad Night!