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I don’t know about you but figuring out how to use host homes well in our ministry was tricky. However, these homes were a key piece in our ministry and our students loved being in families homes. We have used a host all year round for the last 7 years to facilitate our weekly small groups for college students. Over the years we have learned a couple of things that I believe may be useful to you if you are currently using host homes in your ministry or would like to begin using them.

First, I want to say that these groups have been so fruitful for us personally as ministers and to our students in ways that we could never imagine. We have seen organic relationships form that we could have never created on our own. We have seen students understand and experience healthy marriages that they never saw in their personal lives. We have had families love and buy into college ministry in a way that goes far beyond any job description we could ever create. Our ministry has expanded far beyond what we could ever create just because of these families stepping in and loving our students well. However, this has taken some time and learning on our behalf to set up these groups and leaders to thrive well, and I will also say this we are still learning as we go.

You have to understand what you’re asking of this family. 

This is a LARGE commitment for families to open up their home on a weekly basis or monthly basis. I firmly believe that if you are asking families in your church to open up their home for a small group of students to enter their home on a regular basis you need to do the same. I am not saying that you have to do this forever but at least for the beginning  or a season of time so that you fully know what you are asking them to do. You are not only asking them for their time, but also for their space. This means that they will have to spend take extra time to prepare their space for company, and then reset their space for their everyday living once everyone leaves. This can be extremely taxing on families (I have some things that elevate some of this burden later in the article). We as leaders need to understand the gravity of what we are asking and NEVER take them for granted. These families are sacrificing a ton for your ministry and they need to know that you see that and are extremely grateful on a regular basis. My goal is to make sure that I go above and beyond for our families to know that our ministry would not and could not be what it is without them, and honestly that is so true for us.

These groups are not just for the College student to be served, but a place for them to learn how to serve.

So many times we set up systems that are only to serve the college student , and yet we get so frustrated when they don’t know how to serve other. We have to teach them how to serve those around them, and I have not found a better place to do that than in a home. Our goal is for these students to be a blessing to these families. However, we have to coach them on how to do that. We regularly tell our students to get to know families of the homes, to get to know their children, to go to their games, to play games with them. We want our students to make an effort to care about the things that these families care about also. We are the ones that set up the expectations that our students will have for these groups, and they have to be aware that their job is also to love and care for these families as well. One if the practical ways we do this is we ask our students to make sure the house is clean before they leave. This means washing the dishes, taking the trash out, sweeping the floors. This looks different in every home depending on the host. However, last year one of our groups did an entire deep clean of the house before they left, all on their own! It was crazy, and so sweet for that family. We have found that college students love to do these kinds of things, they just need our help with giving them the ideas and then they will run with it! When we saw students beginning to serve these families, there was a major shift in our host homes that created communities we could have never imagined. I believe this in many ways has brought a new level of depth in our groups, and a clearer picture of how the Kingdom is to function.

Give the Host Homes Ownership of their Groups

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I like to micromanage and have complete control over what is happening during the time we have students because ultimately I am responsible for that time. I am responsible for their time, yes, but I am also responsible to allow the giftings of these leaders shine and my giftings are not always what their gifts are, and that is wonderful! For example we have one group that can not follow a schedule if their life depended on it. They honestly walk to the beat of their own drum, and I have learned that is okay. Why? Because they are Spirit filled people that DEEPLY love college students! Every student that has joined that group has learned how to follow Jesus better, been loved, and cared for. If  I came in and told them they had to follow everything to a T, I would suffocate that group. I am not saying that all the rules go out the window. What I am saying is know what actually matters and what doesn’t. Don’t get hung up on the little things. If they want to plan something special for their group, let them. If they want to cancel one week, or start later, let them. Our best small groups have happen when we have set up a basic structure, and just allowed them to be exactly who God has created them to be. It is the coolest thing!

Communicate Often

These are your people, this is your team! I think in ministry we are good at giving marching orders, casting vision, getting things started, but we have to march with them! We have to minister to them as they minister to our college students. In order for us to lead well we have to know what they are personally going through, and what students are communicating to them during their time together.

We have to know what is happening on a daily basis in this family’s home, what are they dealing with, and do we know how to pray for them specifically? We ask our host homes to commit to a year of serving our students in this way. There are a lot of things that could change in a families life in a year when they said yes to hosting. So we have to minister to them along the way throughout the year as they serve! I believe that when people are seen and ministered to in the hard seasons it empowers them to serve even deeper. You also will have discernment on what is best for that family in the midst of a hard season, if they need to take a break BEFORE they get to burn out. This creates longevity in your leadership, it takes away fear from long commitment, it builds trust with the families. If they are confident that you are in this with them, supporting them, caring for them, they will continue to want to do ministry with you for the long haul and that is worth a million dollars in my book!

You also need to be regularly checking in on how your groups are doing. Are they going well? Are students connecting with each other? Is it awkward? What is the spiritual climate of the room? What are the students struggling with? What are they celebrating? These are all questions that as leaders we need to know the answers to, and all questions that we need to be asking often. I have been able to gain such a deeper perspective on how I need to encourage students and where I need to challenge from these conversations I have had with these families that would have never taken place if I didn’t ask.

Ultimately, be the leader you are asking them to be.  

You model what you want them to do in your everyday life and the host families and students will get it in a way that you could never explain or write out. When you are doing exactly what you are asking of them you understand, you know what needs to change, you know what needs to be communicated better, but above all else be GENUINE. Be about more than just a program with a good system that you just throw people into to have a large trendy ministry. You take the time to do the little things that actually matter. Love these families well, make time for them in your schedule because they are pouring into the very ministry that you are held accountable for. They are important not just because they are accomplishing a purpose from your own personal ministry gain, but because they are playing a larger role in the Kingdom of God that will go far beyond your own personal agenda, so don’t miss out on it! I truly believe that it is in homes in small groups of people, in the unseen places that the Gospel is shared, accepted, and experienced deeply. I believe that freedom comes, repentance happens, obedience is expected, and discipleship continues as we as a body of believers open our homes and share what God has given us for his Kingdom. Now we as leaders must set these homes up for success, and if we do they will succeed.