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Platoons and shepherds
Somewhere in-between the "peer ministry" and "practices" models is a two-pronged "platoons" and "shepherds" approach that Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California, has pioneered. This captures the "peer ministry" impulse while preserving the intergenerational connection with the larger worshiping body.

John Ruhlman is the high-school pastor mentioned earlier who questioned the effectiveness of "entertainment ministry" to 300 screaming kids. Through prayer, personal investigation, and discussion with other leaders at Shadow Mountain, Ruhlman began to see that the key to successful ministry (to teens or otherwise) was in adopting Jesus' own model: "Take 12; graduate 11; focus on three."

After this realization, he and his colleagues attempted, twice, to launch a small-group approach to their youth program. And twice it failed.

"So we prayed a ton about it," he says. And after a retreat with the youth ministry staff and about 40 youth leaders, it dawned on them that the missing element to success in the small-group context was student leadership.

Ruhlman immediately set up a whole new program under the cell-group model, only this time with teen leaders. Each group is called a "platoon" and has a student leader. Each platoon leader has a "coach" (adult mentor) who meets with him or her for an hour or two every week and who also attends the platoon meetings.

All student leaders must meet the two criteria for leadership: (1) they must be "sold out" for Jesus Christ, not just in word but in action and example; and (2) they must possess the "gift" ...

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