Small groups. They are the building blocks of all ministry. They create an emerging community. For children’s ministry leaders, changing to a small group model involves two primary paradigm shifts. The first is spectator/volunteer to pastor. The second is a shift from teacher to storyteller. Your small group leaders need to know that their primary function as a small group leader becomes pastoral.
From Spectator/ Volunteer to Pastor
Ecclesiastes 12:1 says, “Remember your Creator while you are young” (NCV). You’re working with a demographic that has the greatest opportunity for receiving Christ. You have a chance to bring them into the Kingdom of God at an early age. You need to see yourself as being life-giving and vital in that process.
You may think you’re presenting a lesson in a small group, but what you’re really doing is building relationships. So be prepared to communicate a lesson but be intent on building relationships. These relational platforms will be the place of your ministry to these kids. Kids are very intuitive, so be genuine with them.
Your Children’s Pastor will give you curriculum, space, supplies, etc. But how will you go about building this community that you will pastor?
Generally, the large group time will be first, right? Use this time to watch your kids. This time is your BEST opportunity to gauge where your kids are that day emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
Let’s assume that worship is followed by offering and then it’s small group time. Remember, it’s a small group. It’s a community. There is much to learn about managing community. People in groups are messy. One child won’t speak or engage. The next one hijacks every conversation. Another talks while you’re talking. “He’s touching me.” Only one will pray aloud. Everyone is self-conscious; especially the older grades. Yikes!
Here are some suggestions for addressing typical small-group concerns:
Pray. Don’t use prayer as a last resort; stay on the offense with prayer. You’re talking to the Divine Creator of the Universe. He’s the Smartest Person in the Room. Get prayed up before coming to small group time.
Address the issue first with the person individually. Be natural and seek to understand from their perspective. Make “observations” instead of accusations. For instance, “I’ve noticed that you don’t comment much in the discussion. Is there something we can do to make it easier for you to participate?”
Be creative. This is especially helpful for the person skipping down rabbit trails. Come up with a time limit, a hand signal, or some other means to help them stay on track. Seek to make this fun and not burdensome. Jim Carrey is not my favorite actor, but his teacher saw his raw talent. Instead of trying to squelch it, she offered him “stand up” time at the end of every class, if he would be quiet and behave the rest of the time. It worked.
Be patient. None of these problems will kill your group, and taking the time to allow them to be solved naturally will create a culture where community can emerge.
Rebellion is the only behavioral problem that I would like to address here. Rebellion is an attitude. It’s not necessarily behavioral. It’s a hard heart. It says, “I won’t and you can’t make me.” It must be broken for the sake of the individual and the group. This requires discernment, and must be handled within rules laid out by the leadership. As a children’s pastor, I always framed the issue in terms of rebellion. For example, “If you push Joe again, I will set you outside the group (until you’re ready to be a part of the community/ group within our rules.)” I shared how God dealt with “sin in the camp” as told through stories in Numbers and Deuteronomy. God’s presence cannot abide where sin resides. This is true on every level. Framing an issue this way was always my last resort, but once I said it, I meant it. I would immediately set the person outside the group, alone in a separate area of the space. The only acceptable response to rebellion is a contrite heart; repentance. Once that repentance occurred they were welcomed back into the community without fanfare and with open arms.
From Teacher to Storyteller
Props are good. An example is the talking spoon. You can not speak unless you’re holding the talking spoon, which is in the middle of the space. It controls the conversation a little more. Another option is to use a nerf ball, bean bag, or rubber chicken to control the conversation. You ask a question and then someone raises their hand to answer. Then, you throw them the bean bag and they can answer. When they are finished, they throw it back.
Prizes are great. I like to keep a handful of individually wrapped candies in my pocket and toss them to the kids for participation or good behavior. Another idea along the same lines, is that every time you say a certain word, the first person who stands up and shouts the subject of your Bible lesson gets a prize. One lesson that prizes teach is that “life is not always fair.” So if one kid didn’t get a prize today, encourage them to come back next week and try again.
Competitions can be awesome. Anytime you have one group of kids compete against another, you’ve immediately amped up their attention. One eye color against another. Those who would rather take a vacation in the mountains against those who would rather take a vacation to the seashore.
Boredom is the unpardonable sin in children’s ministry. Always be open to changing the dynamics of your space, your voice, your presentation techniques, anything. You need to read your audience. Remember, engagement is key.
The parents of the kids in your small group will ask them two questions when they pick them up:
1. Did you have fun?
2. What did you learn today?
I’m not saying that you’re “successful” if your kids answer both of those questions well. But it doesn’t hurt.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, then I’ve misinformed you. The work is dwarfed by the rewards, and there are many… including that most sought after of commendations: “Well done good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)
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