Otimar Gonçalves - Youth Ministries Director, South American Division

When I look at the youth and teenagers in our church, I notice many are doing very little to advance the gospel. Organizing youth into small groups to do outreach could produce fantastic results to an extent rarely seen in the history of Adventism. 

Ellen G. White counsels us, “There are many lines in which the youth can find opportunity for helpful effort. Let them organize into bands for Christian service, and the cooperation will prove an assistance and an encouragement” (Education, 269).

After reading widely on church growth and serving the church in several countries and in various regions of Brazil, I decided that the creation of small groups was not merely a church-growth fad; rather, it is God’s plan for His church today.

The concept of small groups is an interdenominational trend. There is a constant effort among evangelical churches to organize themselves into cells. Dr. Christian A. Schwarz, an expert in church growth, conducted a 10-year study of more than 1,000 congregations from 32 countries. He studied eight basic characteristics of healthy, growing churches and identified them as follows: 

1. Empowering leadership
2. Gift-oriented ministry
3. Passionate spirituality
4. Functional structures
5. Inspiring worship service
6. Holistic small groups
7. Need-oriented evangelism
8. Loving relationships

Referring to small groups in relation to these eight characteristics, he says, “If we were to identify any one principle as the most important, then without doubt it would be the multiplication of small groups” (Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches, 32).

I believe that organizing youth into small groups will accentuate the idea of church as family and community. A family ought to be the best small group. A colleague of mine once told me that “the church of the future will learn to live like the church of the past,” which means that the ideal model of worship and fellowship has been and always will be based on the family—from the lost paradise to the restored Eden.

Doug Fields, youth pastor at the Saddleback Church, has written more than 20 books for youth, among them Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry. He says, “The most effective way to produce ‘biblical’ fellowship in the lives of our youth is through their participation in small groups. . . . In the church, small groups are essential, especially to adolescent spiritual maturity” (138). 

There are at least three reasons why youth should be involved in and committed to small group ministry:

1. Small groups for youth will provide a suitable environment to get acquainted. Young people often choose their friends because of proximity (such as attending the same school) or common interests (sports, hobbies, etc.). Providing a comfortable setting for them to meet other young people from their church will nurture friendships. It will also provide an opportunity for them to become involved in church activities and to feel they are a valued and integral part of their church.

Feeling rejected can be traumatic for youth. Everyone wants to be part of a group. Young people want to belong, and they want to be part of a community with similar interests. Developing small groups in the church makes this possible.

During the prophet Samuel’s time, the principle of working with young people in groups was very important. “In the accomplishment of this object, Samuel gathered companies of young men who were pious, intelligent, and studious. These were called the sons of the prophets. The instructors were men not only versed in divine truth, but those who had themselves enjoyed communion with God, and had received the special endowment of His Spirit. They enjoyed the respect and confidence of the people, both for learning and piety” (Ellen G. White, Fundamentals of Christian Education, 96).

2. Small groups for youth will provide an environment that encourages Christian friendships and caring for one another. Christianity is a religion of relationships. First and foremost is one’s relationship with Jesus, through private prayer, Bible reading, and witnessing about Him. Second is our relationship with our neighbors, especially the people in “my” youth group. 

The Bible is full of Christian exhortations whose purpose is to stimulate fellowship in communities and caring for one another. “But through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). ”Therefore receive one another” (Rom. 15:7). ”Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another” (Col. 3:13). ”Greet one another” (Rom. 16:16). ”Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Rom. 12:10). “Able also to admonish one another” (Rom. 15:14). “Submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Eph. 5:21). ”Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11).

The biblical expression “one another” occurs 53 times in the New Testament, most of the time challenging us to a healthy relationship with our neighbors. God created us to live in communities. It is in the fellowship of a group that we discover the reason for our being and the true value each person has before God. “The principle inculcated in the injunction ‘Be kindly affectioned one to another’ is the cornerstone of the Christian character. . . . Christian courtesy is the golden clasp which unites the members of the family in bonds of love, becoming closer and stronger every day” (Ellen G. White, Reflecting Christ, 189).

3. Small groups for youth will provide an environment for faith development. One of the major challenges in youth ministry is to get young people to make a commitment to the church mission, using the gifts each one has received as God’s good stewards. Our young people have many gifts and abilities; however, most are not using them because they either don’t know how, are afraid of witnessing, or are not given the opportunity to participate.

What is the solution? The answer may be in the creation of small groups for youth, where young people are given the opportunity to develop their gifts. By learning to use their gifts gradually and in a supportive environment, they will lose their fear of witnessing.

It is time to help our youth organize into small groups to study the Bible, to sing praises to God, and to pray and witness to schoolmates or colleagues. This is the challenge today: “Young men and young women, cannot you form companies, and, as soldiers of Christ, enlist in the work, putting all your tact and skill and talent into the Master’s service, that you may save souls from ruin? Let there be companies organized in every church to do this work” (Ellen G. White, Christian Service, 96).

According to sociologists, human beings want to be part of a small group, not a multitude. They want to be noted, loved, and protected; they want to be part of a winning team. This being true, there may be no more effective method of working with our youth than in small groups.

Otimar Gonçalves - Youth Ministries Director, South American Division


“I thank the Lord for the blessings and joy He has given me!” exclaims Giovanni Negro, a local church elder at the Bracciano Seventh-day Adventist Church. He has been an elder at this little country church near Rome, Italy, for two years and has been an Adventist since 1987. He is married to his beautiful wife Lucia, and they have two precious daughters, Elisa and Gloria. He is a very active church member, not only as an elder but also as the director of the Pathfinder Club and evangelism program. 

Giovanni believes that every ministry he is a part of is solely for the Lord and that each duty is important and gratifying. He does not care if these functions require a lot of his time and energy. Instead, he focuses on the reason he serves and ministers patiently in the Lord. “In the past, I have often thought of what the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:16 (NLT) when he writes, ‘And who is adequate for such a task as this?’ I realize that working as an elder is a great responsibility because of my accountability to the church and to God; however, God has always given me the strength during my ministry to serve my church with love and humility.”

His pastor describes him as a spiritual person, a committed member, and a great helper in the ministry. He says that working with a local church leader like Giovanni is a blessing each pastor desires to have.