Most small group leaders will tell you they think getting from the start to end of a lesson is the point. It is their responsibility to hit all of the topics and questions on that paper they have been given by the youth pastor.

I approach small groups a little differently. We call it “teach at your own pace.” When I get a new curriculum I sort of tear it apart. At the top I place: “THE MAIN POINT.” This is the one theme that I want each student to take home with them from the lesson. Then I highlight the scripture reference. These are the two non-negotiables that my leaders MUST stick to. We all need to be heading the same direction in the ministry, is my belief. As long as my leaders are well prepared and I know what they are doing in their group, the way they ask questions or the activities they do to reinforce the point are all up for grabs. My leaders are handed four lessons every six weeks. If they are are allowing their students to wrestle with the concepts and ask questions then very few lessons should take ONE week. Most lessons will at least take two weeks to complete, some may even take three. I check in with my leaders to see where they are at and how things are going CONSTANTLY.

To allow my leaders the space to teach this way also means they need a lot of on going training and direction. The first step is a change in philosophy. Small groups aren’t about what we are teaching, they are about what our students are learning. By the time they hit High School our youth have heard concepts on more than one occasion. Yet, to stop and be asked, “Do you know what this means?” followed by, “What does this mean for your life?” is new for many of them. The goal is that our students walk out the door DOING something with their lessons that will propel them to be closer to Christ. Next, we of course reinforce what makes for good small groups: a safe space, growth in Christ, and becoming prepared for the future.

In this there is a vital lesson many of us forget to teach our leaders:

Know the difference between neon signs and rabbit trails.

Rabbit Trails = Derailment

These are the times when students just want to get us off topic or tell us something important to them in the moment. We have all had a student who says they want to ask a question only to give us the plot line behind the latest movie they have seen. “I saw American Idol last night and you know I really want Caleb to win.” has nothing to do with anything. This is when we gently coax, “I am glad you love that show, I would love to hear all about it, could we talk about it after small group.” Then our leader pulls the student aside at the end to have a two minute conversation just about American Idol and why the student loves it.

Neon Signs = Faith Explosion

We are in a discussion about Peter walking on the water out to meet Jesus. A student says, “I would never have had the courage to get out of the boat in the first place.” It’s easy for us to gloss over these moments. We can quip something like, “I totally get that,” and keep going. These types of statements dig into something deeper. If we simply probe with, “Why?” We never know what we might get. It could be followed by, “I could never have that kind of faith.” or “I’m afraid of water because I can’t swim.” There could be numerous answers. There are statements thrown out that can be screaming for us to ask more. These are the moments a student’s faith is built. These are the spaces we park for awhile.

If our leaders are just trying to get from the top to the bottom of the page, then we never know what we might miss. Aren’t we all trying to help our students grow closer to Jesus to take action to change the world?

Do you think rabbit trails are bad?

***Caleb did indeed win American Idol after all. Good call, Middle Schooler. :)***