For the last several years the youth min world has been moving more and more into the sphere of “small groups.” It makes sense. Our students get more time to wrestle with issues and really talk about what they are thinking. This is FINALLY a place where they don’t have to simply absorb information, they get to talk it through.
Recently my daughter had the chance to “visit” a small group at a different church than we normally attend. She came home and said, “Sometimes I just think small groups are a waste of time.” I was shocked so I asked, “Would you rather just have someone talk up front?” “Not all the time, but when the small group is horrible than yeah,” was her response. Of course this caused me to dig into what makes a “bad” small group. As she spoke I thought of ways I have committed the sins which annoyed her. It also made me realize that to just “have” small groups at church or in a program is not enough. They need to actually be effective.
After my conversation with my daughter, I realized there are some ways to “kill” a small group.
Here are my top three:
We think the “point” of small groups are to get through the curriculum. There is so much information and maybe even a game we should play in under an hour. What if we say something wrong? Therefore, our eyes are glued to the page as we move down the bullet pointed, “questions to ask,” like a check list. If you would like your students to get bored, disinterested and leave remembering little of what you talked about, then follow this method of teaching.
Talk At Students:
This time is not meant to be a “mini sermon,” platform or soap box. We don’t need to to hear the sound of our voice. Get comfortable with awkward silence. We don’t have to fill every space with talking and “personal stories.” (These are great but too many actually equals babbling.) Give them space to be heard. Take cues from body language. Talk less and listen more. Get them involved. No one needs to hear a talk from “up front” and then a follow up “talk” as to our thoughts on what was said. In this category also falls, “ignore the hard questions and just gloss over them.” We don’t have all the answers. We can always say, “I’ll get back to you on that one.” Unless of course you were hoping that this would be one more place teens feel like they are getting lectured. Then just keep doing what you are doing.
Let the “One” Take Over:
We are not in a one on one conversation here. There is always “that” student who answers everything. There is also often one who wants to make every group about them alone. Sometimes the quiet kids have profound things to offer. Their personality just doesn’t lend itself to talk over anyone. It’s hard to say, “Thanks for all of your great insights, now we are going to hear from someone else.” It can also feel heartless to say, “Could we chat more about your issues at the end of group today?” This of course may happen from time to time when an emergency takes over and someone NEEDS the extra attention. But be aware of the student who is really looking to have small group about them.
If we are “in charge” of our youth programming never train the teaching team or give them clear expectations. Small group leaders are often volunteers who just want to help some kids. They need training in HOW to make a discussion time interactive. If they don’t know “how” or what you are really looking for, then they think their small group is always a failure.
I guess we need to know the goal of “small groups.” Are they a mechanism to help students get to know the Lord more and be transformed by HIm or are they a time to just give out more information?
I have a long list, but what are some other small group “killers” in your opinion?