I used to struggle as a small group leader. I’m great with one-on-one conversations or delivering a talk to a large group, but small groups would feel a little painful if I had to lead. The challenge I faced was dealing with the silence. I would ask a question, and my teens would stare back at me. I would then fill the silence with rambling or some stupid joke. It took a while for me to realize that my focus was off. I was trying to do too much.
Small groups can be the backbone of your ministry. They are adaptable and flexible, and your ministry’s health does not rise nor fall on the success of one group. Small groups are a way of extending your reach to impact generations and form an intimate community amongst the Universal Church. Starting small groups can be hard, and despite best efforts, they can fizzle out quickly. If you want to build long-lasting, self-sufficient small groups, then you need to create a great experience, which means:
It does not matter the age group, but when you partner up with your leaders you not only create accountability but build a model of what the conversation should look like. Over the years, I’ve found that my best small group experience (whether leading an adult or teen group) happens because there is another person to fill in the silence, expand on ideas and connect with those I might not.
It also shows small group participants that the group is not just about one person, and it shows that everyone has the opportunity to speak, respond and ask feedback. Partnering up is more than safety; it’s a way of showing others what the conversation can look like because at least two people are modeling it.
PREPPING YOUR SPACE
To help people open up you need to create spaces that allow vulnerability. While not many parishes can control where their groups meet its essential to recognize specific spaces will amplify certain feelings.
Last year we had to move our third thru fifth grade small groups out of classrooms and into the gymnasium. Granted having everyone meet at round tables in a gym was not ideal, but the classrooms were worst. Parents would tells us that while what we were teaching or doing was great, the kids still felt like it was school and the last thing they wanted was more of it.
Again, many are limited to where they can meet, but there are a few things we can do to make sure the space isn’t a disaster. Start with making sure it’s clean, and you can rearrange the furniture. If possible, bring in fun snacks or drinks to change the focus. If you work with small kids or teens, see about meeting outside if the weather is nice or, if possible, work with your pastor to find alternate spaces.
Having quality content is so important. When we overwhelm our leaders with complex textbooks or ask them to use technology that they are unfamiliar with it can dampen the small group experience. Prioritizing relationships does not mean ignoring what needs to be shared, instead, it enhances its value.
To prioritize relationships, you need to start every group off with prayer. The prayer doesn’t have to be in a particular format; however, it should be more than reciting some words. If you want the relationships amongst participants to grow, it means making sure God is invited into the conversation.
Prioritizing relationships also means getting to know the names and identities of each individual. It’s essential to learn about a person’s family dynamics, hobbies, passions, and story. The more you know someone, the more you trust them. The more trust in the group, the more natural it is to go deeper.
Creating the best small group experience does not take much money, nor is it complicated to do. At the end of the day, small groups need people who are focused on Christ, welcoming and loving towards others.
What are other aspects of an excellent small group experience?