As SGLs we need to lead our few into having an authentic faith—a faith that is their own. We spend countless hours talking to our few about faith, hoping and praying they will eventually “get it”. However, trying to make an impact in students’ lives can be discouraging—especially if after weeks or even years of small group, it still seems as if you’ll never get through; you still don’t know if you should bow your head and keep praying or bang your head against your car steering wheel asking God why your few just don’t get it.

But the reality is….we can find glimmers of hope in all of our students. (yes, even the students who fart, cuss and gossip in our small group.) We need to remember that God is working on all of our students’ hearts. As SGLs we need to look for the windows when God has our students’ attention. At some point, their spiritual light will turn on and it is important for us to recognize and maximize these times of spiritual growth and maturity. So here is a work-in-progress list that highlights six milestones that may identify when your students are understanding what you and God are laying down.

1. Delayed response.
Sometimes a student will pause for a moment before responding to a small group discussion question. Students who speak quickly and “continuously” seem to be repeating something they’ve heard in the past. When words come slowly, this could be evidence that he or she is really struggling—and succeeding—to understand. Delayed responses mean your few are processing and attempting to make sense of their thoughts and emotions.

2. Contagious excitement
Excitement and passion explode from the learner in such a powerful way it defies written description. It begins in the eyes. You’ll know it when you see it—it’s contagious and it will encourage you as a small group leader.

3. New and different questions
You can tell that a student is beginning to “get it” when he or she asks new questions. The questions may surprise you and may be framed in a way that is personal for the one who asks. When students ask real and honest questions, I always smile because I know they are wrestling with their faith.

4. Assimilation and comparison
Sometimes a student will take a new concept and compare it with something he or she has learned in the past. It is always cool to watch students take old series content and integrate it with the new stuff they are learning about their faith.

5. Personalized responses
Truth and concepts are explained in personal terms, rather than parroting back something in “churchspeak.” This is huge because students have the tendency to regurgitate what their parents, student pastor or small group leader say. So when they say something that is personalized, this means they have been sitting on what they said for a bit.

6. Personalized application
A student who “gets it” can quickly apply a timeless truth to a particular situation in his or her life. This application means the student is moving past information to experience. When personalized application happens, your fews’ faith will begin to stick and become real.

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Jeremy holds a B.A. in Communication from University of Minnesota as well as a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. He has a passion for connecting with and learning from student pastors, deliberatively researching, reading, and blogging about student ministry and family ministry, dabbling with online technology and experimenting in ministry lifestyle design and productivity in the church. Jeremy and his wife, Mikaela, live in Alpharetta, Georgia, where he serves as an Orange Specialist with the XP3 Student team.

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