Having small groups is nothing new, but it is not easy.
If you love to teach, you may be tempted to talk too much.
It may be hard to get students to talk if you are leading a group who is unfamiliar with you or each other.
It can be difficult to maintain control of the focus of the conversation.
Challenges to Leaders:
Be a listener – How are you going to know what they are thinking if they are not talking? Forming relationships is much more of them talking and you listening. Ask good questions (as mentioned in our previous podcast, “How to Ask Great Questions in Small Groups”) and wait for an answer. Be patient through the awkward silence to let them know you actually want to hear from them.
Be a coach – Be someone who is there to encourage, motivate and challenge your students to grow spiritually beyond where they would grow on their own. 1 Thess. 5:14 shows that being patient is key.
Be real – Students need a leader who struggles just like they do. Don’t air your dirty laundry, but share common struggles, like doing a daily quiet time or controlling your temper. This is the best thing you have to offer as a leader. As mentioned in Eric Gaiger and Thom S. Rainer’s book “Simple Church,” be a tour guide, and not a travel agent. Show them that you have been there before and know what it is like.
What do you do during the small group time?
Connect – Take time to interact with them. Early in the year, you will need to get to know them. Ask them to fill out a card about themselves and give contact information and preferences. Then as the year goes on and you know them better, interact with them using the stuff their life centers around. Avoid yes-or-no questions or questions with one-word answers. Engage them in conversation and then transition into what was taught in the lesson that night.
Apply – Ask questions about the lesson. Have these questions ready, whether they are already provided with a curriculum, or written yourself. Please don’t look like you are just reading a provided list of questions for the students. Own the questions and ask them as if they were coming from you to better engage your students. You may need to ask questions to help the group understand what was taught (ex. What did the teacher really want us to understand about the topic?) or they may have grasped it already and you can move directly into life application questions (ex. Based on the truth taught… what are you going to do about it? How will it change your life? What are you going to do right now?). Don’t tell them what the application should be, help them discover it for themselves. Challenge them to apply their answers during the week to connect it to their lives. Help them with spiritual disciplines like their quiet time with the Lord. Be realistic and focus on their progress and growth, not perfection.
Pray – Pray together intentionally with your students. Take prayer requests, but also challenge them to pray for classmates and family members, following the pattern of the Cause Circle (learn more at Dare2Share.org)
Think about what you can do during the week between small group times.
If you only connect with students once a week, your discipling relationship will be shallow. It may also send a message that this church thing is only to be done when at church, rather than infiltrating the rest of their lives.
Find out how your students prefer to be contacted and follow through with them during the week, after asking their parents for permission and always keeping parents in the loop. Connect to build the discipleship relationship. Follow up on your challenges for them, encourage them, and follow up on their prayer requests. If discipleship is the swimming pool, then small group time is the diving board. If discipleship only happens during small group time, it’s like sitting on the diving board, barely getting your feet wet. However, small group time could also be used as the diving board that launches you into discipleship by taking the opportunities it presents.
Leading small group is a tremendous opportunity because students want real discipleship relationships where they know you care for and are there for them. It can be a thankless job, but you are a hero. “Keep on keeping on.”
Take advantage of the opportunities that are right in front of you because the old saying is true: “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Brian has been in youth ministry for 23 years. He is passionate about communicating truth to young people and the leaders that work with them. Brian loves to play, watch and talk about all kinds of sports. He and his wife Lynn have three awesome teenagers and live in upstate, NY.