HOW TO CONTEXTUALIZE SMALL GROUP MEETINGS
Small groups are an integral part of bcc|youth. As a youth leader it is important to understand that every small group is going to be different and unique.It is up to the small group leader to tailor each small group session to meet the needs of the students without getting the small group off topic. There are three questions that every small group leader needs to ask:
- What kind of leader is a small group leader?
- What kind of students are in my small group?
- What will happen in my small group?
What Kind of Leader is a Small-Group Leader?
Someone who loves Christ and loves kids and knows a little bit about small-group dynamics will be the perfect small group leader. Here are some important guidelines in small group leadership:
- The leader must be a listener. An intent listener. The leader must give the person speaking his or her undivided attention, "warmest eyes," and most open ears. The leader also must be a loving and accepting listener. Every person has worth, and every idea from that person has worth. Every idea might not be right, but it carries weight and deserves to be heard.
- The leader must learn to understand what his/her kids are thinking. Sometimes, questions just fall to the floor, and no one responds . . . for a long time. Determine what the students are thinking—was it a poorly worded question—or are the students thinking about their answer? If a group fails to grasp a concept, a natural reaction is to preach to kids the answer you want them to give back to you. This robs them of the opportunity to discover the answer themselves. As much as possible, try not to rob kids of the joy of discovery. Try to be a facilitator, not a preacher.
- The leader leads through openness. Whenever a leader has a personal question he or she wants to ask the group, they should take the lead and answer the question first. Going first does three things: (1) it demonstrates leadership openness, (2) it sets the stage for how open group members will be, and (3) it gives the kids a chance to think. Of course, the group leader shouldn't over-do this because the goal is to get the kids to talk, not to let them hear you talk.
- The leader is prepared. If a group leader wants the group to honestly talk about the series, it will be wise to review over the Students Small Group Dialog before leading a small group.
- The leader must be committed to the members of his or her group and also to the whole youth group leadership team. It is important that the leader is a team player and is committed to serve the overall program flow. A small group leader is a small group leader in and outside of youth group and during small group time. Students function best when they know and sense that the youth leadership team is all on the same page.
What Kind of Students Are In My Small Group?
To effectively know how to lead a small group, you need to know your students personally and spiritually. One of the best ways to know where your students are, personally and spiritually, is by asking them questions.
- In one word describe your walk with Christ.
- What are the top three websites you visit?
- What are your three favorite TV shows?
- What are your three favorite stores?
- Who are your three favorite musical artists?
- How do you best connect/experience God?
- What are three questions you have about God/Christianity?
- What are three doubts/difficulties you are experiencing in life?
- In youth group, what three things do you want to learn about?
- What advice do you want to give your small group leader?
- What is your favorite part of youth group?
These questions can be conducted through a survey or through organic conversation. It is just important to know the story of every student sitting in your small group. It will help you facilitate appropriate illustrations and provide practical landing spots that will connect with your students.
What Will Happen in My Small Group?
The answer, of course, is that anything can happen in small groups at any given time. Isn’t that what you wanted to hear? Students can become distracted and talk about the current issues of school and forget the topic altogether. Or they can interact with the Word and emerge from a small group more committed to one another, praying for one another, and more in love with Jesus and His Book. Or not. In other words, small groups can head in a variety of directions depending on the night. It is preferred that groups discuss the topic of the night, BUT it is highly possible (maybe even probable) that this might not happen each and every night. But please don’t give up!! Discussing issues of faith is a learned trait…it’s not natural for students to do this. That’s why they seem to “hijack” discussions and make it all about themselves and their life. Its because that’s the topic they know best. Keep at it and talk to me for ideas when you get frustrated!
DO’S AND DON’TS OF SMALL GROUP LEADERSHIP
Don't be afraid of silence
Let the students sit for a moment and think about what you asked them. Silence is uncomfortable but it allows time to think about the question and gives the opportunity to answer the question truthfully instead of answering it just to give an answer.
Do value student input
Do whatever it takes to affirm the comments of student input, but do not be artificial with your praise. Be delicate with answers that are clearly wrong (you probably don’t want to put a big red “idiot” stamp on their forehead). Do not feel like you have to finish, complete, or correct a student’s answer. You could say, “What does everyone else think about what _____ said?”
Don't feel like you have to know all the answers
We are all human, and it’s good for your students to see that you are limited and don’t know all the answers. If you don’t know the answer to the question, have everyone in the group look for the answer during the week. This gives students and yourself the opportunity of learning how to study God’s Word.
Don't talk more than the students
Ask questions to generate discussion, ask students to explain their answers and go into more depth. Allow multiple students to respond, even if the first person gets the “right” answer.
Do ask students if they have questions
Encourage students to deal with the material on their own terms. Create a climate where people feel the freedom to ask any questions. You could say something like, “I know I had a lot of questions while studying this material, what questions do you have?”
Do echo some responses to your questions
If a students answer or comment is long-winded or unclear, repeat it back and summarize it for clarity. This proves you are listening and it keeps the attention of the rest of the group.
Don't move to the next question too quickly
After a student answers a question, ask, “Would anyone like to add to that?” or “Does everyone agree/disagree with that?”
Do keep the group focused and on task
Try not to go down a rabbit trail and leave the topic and/or scripture passages unless something important comes up (e.g., a family crisis). Be sensitive to the Spirit. Wandering is easy, being a leader isn’t. If your group goes off topic you can say something like, “Well, I too think Brad Pitt should have never left Jennifer, but let’s get back to talking about why Jesus spit in the dirt and then rubbed it on a man’s eye.”
Don't be discouraged
When (not IF) you have a bad night. There is not a small group leader alive in the world that hasn’t had bad nights.
Do handle small issues
No student is perfect. We are dealing with raging chemical imbalances as teenage bodies grow into adulthood. Because of this you will probably encounter issues or actions that need discipline. Discipline is a form of discipleship. For this reason we ask leaders to deal with discipline with extreme caution and wisdom. Never physically push, hit, hold or touch a student as a form of discipline! For minor issues we encourage the leaders to deal with it. Please contact your Youth Pastor with any issues you are unsure of or uncomfortable with. We want our students and leaders to feel safe!
Do require and maintain confidentiality
This allows students to open up because they feel their environment is safe. However, don’t keep potentially dangerous information to yourself. Contact the Youth Pastor immediately if abuse, suicide, hurting themselves or someone else, or destructive intentions surface (err on the side of caution!!) If something comes up in the group that is difficult for someone to share, it’s a good rule of thumb to remind students, that what is said in the group stays in the group.
Do be smart
Loving and giving students your time and attention will change the outcome of the rest of their lives. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Remember you are not a certified counselor so you can only give advice. If you feel a student needs to talk with a counselor, please notify the youth pastor.
- You should never be alone with a student in a private setting. If you need to meet with an individual student, seek to meet in a place that provides the ability for them to share personal conversation, yet you are still visible to other people.
- Guard your words and actions so that they are never misunderstood as angry or abusive.
- Be sure you do not interact in such a way that it can be misconstrued as flirting.
- Leaders are never allowed to be in a dating relationship with a student.
As a small group leader, please continue to invite our non-church students to our Sunday morning worship service. I want them to experience the entire church family of Bellingham Covenant Church. No, our worship service may not be as flashy and entertaining as other churches in town, but we have something very solid to offer our students. Our community of faith is genuinely hospitable. People simply feel welcome here.
Studies show that students who feel known, loved, served, and celebrated by an entire church family have a greater chance of continuing to “stick” with their faith after high school.
Please help me out with this goal and make personal invites to your students and their families!