“There’s something about following Jesus that gets way better when you do it with other people.” 

– Kristen Webb

EMCC huddles are small discipleship groups of Jesus followers engaged in similar ministries who meet together regularly with a leader for connection, encouragment, and accountability. The intent is for huddle participants to start huddles of their own, using and adapting the skills and discipleship format they’ve learned to suit their own particular contexts.

The above comment from a huddle participant sums up the huddle experience. Participants in the following Q&A report that, along with the opportunities to acquire practical discipleship tools and skills, they are growing spiritually and benefitting from the encouragement and the growing relationship with their peers.

The enthusiastic responses in this article all come from participants in current EMCC huddles for leaders who love working with Next Gen. Marty Bennett, Connections Pastor at Cross Connection Church, Chilliwack, BC leads one of these huddles, and Martin Nieuwets, Pastor of Family Life at Bethany, St. Catharines, ON, leads the other. 

In October 2021 the huddles began meeting by Zoom every other week, for 60-90 minutes. Among the variety of things they cover and discuss, they always answer these questions as they read Scripture together: 1) What is one thing God is saying to you? 2) How are you going to respond to God? 3) How did it go?

Introducing the Huddle Participants

Dave Gibson is Youth & Young Adults Pastor at Bethany CC, St. Catharines. “Martin Nieuwets signed me up. I didn’t know much about it going in. I don’t enjoy Zoom, but I thought I’d give it a go. “

Kristen Webb is the Youth and Children’s Pastor and Secretary at Chesley Community Church in Chesley, Ontario. “I was invited to the huddle by Martin. I was really happy and honoured to be invited. I was also excited about learning how to do a huddle. “ 

Maria Esperanza Sztrimbely attends Grace Church, Port Hope and has worked with next gen in Sunday School, leadership of mid-week program, and VBS. “I met Martin on an EMCC Connected Zoom call for Next Gen leaders and said, ‘I know I need this.’“

Matt Lockhart is the Children and Family Director at Emmanuel Missionary Church in Elmira, Ontario. He says, “I met Marty on an EMCC Connected Zoom call. I jumped at the opportunity.”

Spencer Smith is the Youth Pastor at Zion EMC in Didsbury, Alberta. He says, “Someone passed my name to Marty and he invited me. I said, ‘Sounds amazing. I’d love to be a part of that.’”

What do you see as the purposes of the huddle?

Accountability. It’s an intentional relationship. We are practicing what a disciple is. We are kind with one another. When someone plans to do something, and it doesn’t happen we help each other. We ask, ‘What stopped you?’ We take time to reflect. We ask, ‘How do you think you can address this?’ ‘What could be next steps?’ We have become friends. – Maria Esperanza Sztrimbely 

Learning to follow Jesus together. For us to be discipled so that we can go out and make disciples who will go on and make more. It’s a safe place where you can be yourself and do life together. – Kristen Webb

Support and encouragement. It works because it is small and regular and there is trust that opens intimacy with one another. We are able to share resources and pray for each other. We have formed a connection. Even though a teaching tool might not be new to us, it is a good reminder to let it sink in again and to look for opportunities to use it in our own ministries. – Spencer Smith

Learning to listen to the Spirit, to push each other to grow, to become vulnerable to one another, and challenge ourselves. I came with my brokenness and humanity and found the guys accepting, good people to bounce ideas off.  – Matt Lockhart

Connecting with other pastors journeying through the exact same things. You come with what your week has been, and other pastors can pour into it. Marty has been able to pour into us as young dads and young pastors. – Dave Gibson

What has surprised you most about being in a huddle?

That something like this was happening and that I could be a part of it. I am grateful to be with people who share the same goals. – Maria Esperanza Sztrimbely 

How much it has helped my relationship with God. The  frist question we each answer every time we meet and look at scripture together is, ‘What is God saying to you?’ This spills over into other times when we aren’t together. Teaches you always to be going back to Jesus about everything you struggle with or have questions about. – Kristen Webb

I hoped for a level of connectedness and support but wasn’t sure it would be there. I thought at the very least it would be informational, but the relational connection formed deeply and so quickly. I think that was because Marty modeled vulnerability. He took the first risk, and the rest of us jumped in. – Spencer Smith

The comraderie; the connection we made so quickly. We barely knew one another when we started. I think it happened because we recognized we needed people who were going through the same things (Covid). We trusted each other. – Matt Lockhart

I don’t enjoy sitting in these kinds of environments. I thought it would be lecture-style and boring, but it very much wasn’t. I didn’t do well in school but this was genuine, authentic time for personal connection that I didn’t expect to get. Sometimes I don’t have time, but these turn out to be the best times. – Dave Gibson

When your group is no longer meeting in a huddle, what do you think will be next?

I’m part of a group of leaders from small churches. We equip each other. We encourage others to become leaders and make disciples. We are listening to each other, sharing the struggles, like we are doing in huddles. – Maria Esperanza Sztrimbely 

Plans for 12 women in leadership to start something on Zoom every other week. We will study Soul Care, by Dr. Rob Reimer, divide into huddles and use the huddle questions. This will be a safe place for leaders to be known and cared for.  We will hold each accountable as we go along. – Kristen Webb

Even during times when we aren’t in the huddle we’ve reached out to one another for prayer. Maybe we’ll move to a once a month model. The challenge is there for each of us to start our own huddle with pastors in our area, or within the EMCC. – Spencer Smith

I would like to be able to offer a huddle experience to other youth pastor friends, or other children’s directors in the area, or perhaps with youth leaders at a later point. – Matt Lockhart

We will be encouraged to start our own huddles to disciple others, and help them learn to disciple others too. – Dave Gibson

Is being in a huddle affecting or changing your approach to discipleship?

Yes. One of the things I learned is the intentional relationship–when we are listening to one another, being very kind, selecting the wording carefully. Our response to one another is deep–no clichés. – Maria Esperanza Sztrimbely 

There’s a real benefit to doing this with other people. We are meant to live in community. There’s something about following Jesus that gets way better when you do it with other people. – Kristen Webb

Yes, you can be on-fire about a tool you hear about, but then it is easy to slip back into old patterns after a while. But when you are in a huddle, these keep coming up over and over so you don’t forget about it and start using it with others. Based on my positive experience in this, I will model the same huddle format going forward. – Spencer Smith

Yes. The huddle has given me better instruction, and I’ve moved from discipleship as a theory to hands-on tools to help me be able to do it with others. – Matt Lockhart

What would you say to others who are considering saying ‘yes’ to an invitation to join a huddle?

The huddle becomes your tribe. I’m extremely grateful. I have become stronger. They care for you and who you are and what God has for you. – Maria Esperanza Sztrimbely 

Say ‘yes,’ as soon as possible! Don’t wait! It is an amazing experience where you can be yourself and experience community. – Kristen Webb

I cannot recommend it enough. The encouragement, support and challenge they will receive will feed them so they will have far more energy to invest in their ministry. I was invited a couple of years ago, but I thought I didn’t have time, and so I said no. I had no idea how much being in a huddle would invest in me. – Spencer Smith

It’s totally worth the emotional output; you’ll grow exponentially once you jump into it. I’ve grown emotionally, and spiritually beyond what I’d imagined. Ministry is hard. Others can build you up to keep going. – Matt Lockhart

They are not as intimidating as they seem. Go in with an open mind. It’s a great opportunity to journey with people who do what you do, build you up, lift you up. – Dave Gibson

If you are a pastor, leader, or volunteer who works with Next Gen in an EMCC setting and you’d like to join a Next Gen huddle, please reach out to the Next Gen Team at nextgen@emcc.ca for information.