So often I talk to my volunteers about their struggles in leading their small group. At the beginning of the year many of them struggle to either get students to talk, or in some cases struggle to reign in their group. By the end of the year they are challenged with how ‘checked out’ students can become. I have found that there are certain phases that most small group must go through. There are some things we can do to help the group get the most out of their time, and there are some realities that we simply need to accept. Here are 4 phases I tell my volunteers about in our small group leaders training manual:
GETTING TO KNOW YOU: The getting to know you or re-acquainted with you after summer break. Spend a good amount of time at the front end of small group breaking the ice; asking relational questions and having individuals share their stories. Don’t be too quick to jump into content at the expense of relational time. When students feel comfortable and relaxed, it is then they will share more of their lives with us and the group.
COVENANT: In the first couple of weeks, make sure you have your small group agree to a covenant that allows everyone in the group to feel safe, respected, and get the most out of their time. Have each of the students write down up to three ‘small group expectations.’ Ideas like, “listen to others when they are talking,” or “we commit to showing up regularly.” Collate all the answers and type them up on a sheet for the next time and give each student their covenant. You may need to remind them of what they agreed to later in the school year.
RECALCULATING THE JOURNEY: Just like a GPS device has to recalculate when you take a wrong turn, expect that your small group will have weeks where you feel like you have gone off course. This often happens a number of weeks into the year as students get too comfortable and sometimes just appear to go through the motions. It is here that each week you should cast the vision for what you hope them to get out of the small group time.
ARRIVING AT THE DESTINATION: Throughout the year expect to have numerous diversions as you help students navigate through life and faith in your small group. However, it’s imperative that during the year, you are able to have a long-term view of the impact of the small group. It is quite possible that your students will arrive at different places from where you hoped, but make sure you celebrate the small steps they take and keep in mind that this is just a part of their overall journey.
What do you see in your small groups? What would you add to this list?