What’s the big picture here?

Listening to the Small Group voices of 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.

We plan to add new, adult volunteers to many of our small groups in the summer of 2019. These volunteers, called Small Group Supporters, will be nominated by Back Home Leaders and 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 the conference fee for a number of these small group supporters so that our ranks of dedicated volunteers begin to grow.

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.

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. 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.

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. 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.

How will we add these trained adults to small groups?

Here’s how it works:

  • Back Home Leaders identify an adult they can bring who would be a great addition to small group and who wasn’t planning to register for the conference
  • Back Home Leaders nominate them using the form, telling us why they would make a great small group supporter
  • We’ll be in touch with them from there
  • If we select them, we’ll scholarship their conference registration fee
  • Back Home Leaders will bring them to the conference and house them with their group
  • We will train them in Mutual Invitation Sunday afternoon (more details below)
  • MYC gets another great adult to help with small group who wasn’t planning to fully participate in the conference
  • Back Home groups get an additional chaperone who will go home with some new skills that can be put to use in their group!

Let’s say, for example, you are bringing a group of 10 to Montreat Youth Conference and you have those 10 signed up, fully registered, and ready to go. We want you to ADD to your group and bring 11 and for that 11th person to be a Small Group Supporter. Small Group Supporters need to grow your group’s number, so we can’t take adults who you already accounted for in your original registration of 10 people. So, find an adult who would be a good Small Group Supporter, nominate him/her, we will scholarship them their conference fee, and you will add them to your group’s registration number. Your group will go from 10 to 11 with that new adult Small Group Supporter. It’s possible that you might not have to look too hard! Do you have an adult who was planning to come as, say, your group’s cook, but isn’t fully registered yet? You can nominate him/her and add him/ her to your group’s total!

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.

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 be fully registered. 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.

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 is Mutual Invitation?

Mutual Invitation is a conversation practice in “holy listening” where 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. 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.

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.

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.

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!