Getting Started in One-to-One Discipleship

So you are sold on the idea of getting your leaders to meet with students one to one but like a lot of things in youth work getting started is the hardest part. Where do you begin? Some teens, in one of the groups mentioned in a previous blog, may come to you to ask for extra help. Other times parents may ask for extra help with their teen. What has worked for me was to announce the program of one to one meetings and I have had kids approach me afterward explaining that they would like extra help in their spiritual development. You could also encourage your small group leaders or adult leaders to take a student under their wing for a season… The relationship is established… but what happens after that?

Build Trust
After getting permission from parents, building the discipling relationship is the first order of business. If you do not trust each other, you are off to bad start. At the Youth Ministry Institute, most of the time I am working with a student and that means that it is not really a two way street. We may discuss the same materials that we are working through but it is clear that I am there to help them grow and not so much the other way.

The First Meeting
Even before the first meeting it is most important to develop trust. The student needs to be completely comfortable with you if he or she is to begin to open up. This can be established by having more of an informal time together at first. Going for a coke or a coffee and getting to know each other better would be a good start. This meeting could be more of a fact finding mission to understand the student developing some goals and objectives for your time together. Although some young people will benefit from just an informal time together to hang out, discipleship is more than this. I have found that little progress is made without goal setting and accountability. AT the end to of the first few meetings it is good to have established a regular time and place that you will meet as well as your expectations of the discipling relationship.

Week to Week
From week to week there should be greater trust and progress toward some measureable goals. Sometimes if the one on ones are not meaningful or profitable to the young person, you will find that attendance drops off. Young people are not always good at informing you that they will be late, will not show up or afterward, that they forgot about the meeting entirely. Having the parents involved in the process can help out. There are times when a meeting to re-evaluate the progress may be necessary. This may follow a week where the student has been absent or around the midpoint, if you are not convinced that real progress is taking place. It is essential to be consistent in prayer for your discipleship partner.

Moving On
Discipleship programs, group or individual should never be open ended. You may decide to renew the one to one meetings for another 13 weeks but more likely it is best to take a break afterward. Part of the danger is that an unhealthy relationship of dependency can be developed and rather than helping the young person stand on their own two feet, you have crippled their spiritual development. The better that you have made the conditions of the program clear from the start the easier it will be to stop meeting together at the end of the allotted time.

Like anything that really matters in life, one-to-one ministry is going to require dedication and perseverance but the results are worth it!

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Ron Powell


Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email


  1. I’m all for one on one discipleship and it’s encouraged in my group by allowing it in budget, but it is also heavily discouraged by plan to protect. The problem today is that everyone is a suspect for doing wrong things when it comes to leader and students.

  2. I am all for one on one discipleship. It is encouraged in my group my allowing it in the budget, but it is also heavily discouraged with plan to protect. The problem today is that everyone is a suspect for doing the wrong things when it comes to leaders and students. I understand the church is trying to protect it’s leaders but when I can’t help a student, what is the point?

    • I hear what you are saying L but I think there are safe ways to work with kids. Tutors do this all of the time. With parents permission and supervision is just one way. meeting at the church with an open door is another. I always made good use of the phone as well to talk even pray with students… it is more difficult in this current climate of fear but it is important to find safe ways to disciple teens.

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