We want to improve the small group experience for everyone.

Year after year, we hear that small group is the heart of the youth conference, where strangers become friends, where youth begin to claim their own authentic faith, and where young people can feel free to express who they are as children of God. We believe this opportunity for building a short-term community of Christian inquiry and belonging is potentially one of the most transformative aspects of youth conferences. These groups are made possible only by the dedicated attention of dozens of adult volunteers.

Of course, any small group can also encounter hazards: domination by the most eager voices, discouragement of voices that require more time for quiet processing, or debate about who’s right and who’s wrong that can cause participants to feel shut down. When these dynamics emerge, opportunities for each member to draw closer to Christ are diminished.

Effective communication has become even more challenging in recent years. Our planning team for the 2019 youth conferences was here last month, and one of the things youth expressed was a weariness around the polarization we are experiencing in our culture, and a yearning to experience unity around a hope that comes from being rooted in God’s love.

Listening to these voices and the accumulated comments from evaluations over recent years, in 2019 Montreat Youth Conference will launch an initiative with three goals:

  • Increase the numbers of trained adults who participate in small groups;
  • Train small group leaders and supporting adults in facilitation skills to promote balance in group participation; and
  • Send those adults back to their congregations with skills that can be used in small groups at home.

Over time we want to enhance the culture of youth conference small groups, so they will be places where all youth feel welcomed into community, where all gain skills in active listening, and where all practice skills of gracious dialogue. We believe that pivoting from conversations about who’s right and wrong toward conversations where the goal is to hear everyone’s voice will equip Christian youth with a spiritual practice that will serve them everywhere in life – in the youth group, in the classroom, and at home.

Like all things related to youth conference small group, this endeavor will rely on a circle of dedicated volunteers who share the vision for a transformative Christian community! Read on to see how you can participate.

What’s the big picture here?

We plan to add supporting adult volunteers to many of our small groups in the summer of 2019. These volunteers will be trained (on Sunday afternoon) in “Mutual Invitation”, a simple practice and spiritual discipline that helps groups know one another better, and listen more closely to one another and to the Holy Spirit.

Because we want to add to the ranks of adults who are fully participating in small groups, we plan to scholarship a number of these small group supporters so that our ranks of dedicated volunteers begin to grow.

What is Mutual Invitation?

Mutual Invitation is a conversation practice in “holy listening” that literally invites each person into a group discussion. These are skills that we have identified as important for the MYC Small Group experience in order to create an environment in which persons of diverse background and experiences are welcomed and no one person or group is marginalized or left out. We want to equip MYC volunteers, back home leaders, and Small Group leaders with these skills.

How will we add these trained adults to small groups?

We’ll scholarship and train a circle of new adults from youth conference churches. We are prepared to accept up to 90 new adults who will be support leadership to our existing small group leaders. We’ll train them in Mutual Invitation conversation practices on Sunday afternoon to get them ready for their roles in small group.

They don’t have to be brand new to youth conference — perhaps there’s a person who’s been coming with your group for years but has never registered for the conference and participated in small group who would make a great fit.

Over time, we hope to infuse the youth conferences with small group leaders, supporting adults, and youth who are steeped in the spiritual practice of gracious dialogue, so that small groups become richer spaces for sharing.

If I have an adult who’s already planning to be fully registered for the conference, are they eligible for the scholarship and training?

Let’s say Mary was already planning to be a fully registered adult attending the conference, and Rosa was going to come with the group but not fully register. Mary would not be eligible for the scholarship, but we hope you’ll nominate Rosa. Part of our goal is to add caring, qualified adults to the ranks of small groups. Inviting Rosa to participate fully for the first time helps us get there!

Now, back to Mary. We would love to add her to the training on a space-available basis (we want to train as many people as we can!)

Aren’t you depending on back home leaders to be honest here when they nominate adults who wouldn’t have been planning to fully register?

Yes.

Can you tell me more about the training and about Mutual Invitation?

Mutual Invitation is a practice developed by the Rev. Dr. Eric Law, who created it as a way to improve conversations across cultural differences. The technique is simple and works across all kinds of differences: introvert/extrovert, verbal/internal processors, higher/lower comfort level in groups. Traditional group facilitation frequently uses the “volunteer style” of interaction that favors participants who feel the most comfortable speaking up. Mutual Invitation insures that everyone who wants to share has the opportunity to speak. As group members become more accustomed to using this tool, they make connections with everyone in the session, because they are required to invite each speaker by name. When Mutual Invitation is used, it encourages deep and holy listening to one another, because there are no interruptions or refutations allowed.

Why does Mutual Invitation work?

Mutual Invitation works by invitation. Each member of a small group is invited personally into the conversation, and each person has the opportunity to speak or to pass. It sounds simple (and it is), but the practice allows those who might never get a word in edgewise to be explicitly invited to share, and it allows those who might have the urge to fill up every silence to hear a wider array of voices. With time and practice, Mutual Invitation can change our conversation patterns, our capacity for listening, and, as a result, and the depth of our relationships.

How will you increase the numbers of adults in small group?

One of our goals is to add to the numbers of fully registered adults in the conference; that’s because fully-registered adults participate in small group, and we need great, supportive adults in small group. We are willing to scholarship and train these additional supporting adults – but we need YOUR help in identifying who they are!

Here’s how it works:

  • you identify an adult you can bring with you who would be a great addition to small group and who you weren’t planning to register for the conference.
  • nominate them using the form, telling us why you think they would make a great small group supporter
  • if we select them, we’ll scholarship their conference registration fee.
  • you’ll bring them to the conference and house them with your group
  • we’ll get another great adult who wasn’t planning to fully participate in the conference
  • you’ll get an additional chaperone who will go home with some new skills that can be put to use in your group!

How will you identify these 90 adults?

This is where we hope you’ll help! We want our back home leaders to nominate an adult from their congregation who would not ordinarily participate in small group. Starting on February 15, we will accept nominations for an outstanding adult from your congregation who would come with your group to Montreat this summer, be trained to support small groups, and participate fully in a small group during the week. You identify and nominate outstanding adult who would add to your team of fully-registered adults, and we’ll pay their registration fee and train them in small group support! We are looking for people who have some experience working with groups, have a heart for youth, a willingness to learn.

How will they be trained?

On Sunday afternoon after your group’s arrival, we’ll give these supporting adults a short training in the concept of mutual invitation. We’ll meet with them again later in the week to check in. When they head home with your group on Saturday, they’ll be ready to lead conversations at home, too!

Will they have to arrive early? Can they still travel with the group?

Their training will begin at 4 pm on Sunday, so they should be able to travel with your group to and from Montreat. A pizza dinner will be included. Training will conclude at 7 pm in time for opening program.

What if the person I want to nominate hasn’t been to youth conference before?

That’s not a problem. First-timers are welcome!

Will these supporting adults be small group leaders?

No. They will not carry responsibility for following the small group manual and leading the group. Instead, they will assist the group during the times when Mutual Invitation conversations are being used for Bible study or reflection, and they will participate fully in the group along with everyone else.

We will not be handing these adults a small group manual and expecting them to take charge of a group (but if you know people who’d be great at that, we are also seeking small group leaders. Apply here to be a small group leader). Instead, we hope they’ll participate fully and support their small group leader in facilitating Mutual Invitation conversations throughout the week.

Will the small group leaders also be trained for Mutual Invitation?

Yes, it will be a part of their training which begins on Saturday prior to the conference.

How do I nominate someone?

After talking with them, use this form to nominate. We’ll be in touch from there.

What qualities are you looking for in these adults?

We’re looking for adults who are eager to learn and show promise for small group facilitation, people who are good listeners and who love creating spaces for community to grow.

Can I nominate a youth?

Not at this time, because one of our goals is to add to the numbers of 21+ adults who are fully registered. But youth will be learning the process of Mutual Invitation in small group, and we’ll be looking for ways to include them in this leadership initiative in future years.

Can I nominate a college student?

If they are over the age of 21, yes!