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Momentum Magazine

52 (more or less!) Small Group Leader Tips

Fri, 22 Nov 2013 - 11:25 AM CST

1. Q. What do you like best in small groups?
    A. I love it in when someone who would never speak out in a large group setting gets the courage to speak out and you see that expression on their face when they are affirmed and encouraged...and what they say usually blows us all away.
-Holly Carr, Johnson, Nebraska
Encourage the kind of opening up Holly refers to with one-on-one conversations asking great questions that both encourage and challenge openness in a teenager.

2. Everyone learns in a couple of primary ways. Though small group isn't a direct teaching environment, learning takes place indirectly. So take indirect teaching to the next level by schooling yourself on learning styles. Here's a place to start: http://tinyurl.com/yd6edv8. (Learning Modalities, Ferris State University).

3. During a small group discussion, if conversation turns down a different, yet meaningful path, don't stop it. Some may think that's distracting, but it communicates to the teens that talking about things they think about is important.
-Mike Hammer, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania

4. Call or pull aside a shy student prior to small group time. Tell them one of the questions you plan to ask in the discussion. Choose a question you think will resonate with him or her and tell them to think about what they'd like to share when you ask that question during the discussion.

5. If you need a game changer after doing the same thing for several years in a row, experiment with same-gender or same-grade groups. Even if kids bristle at first, they'll likely form bonds they might not have otherwise.

6. Regularly meet ahead of time with co-leaders to pray and discuss how you want your small group to go. Leave nothing to chance or routine.

7. Q. What do you like best in small groups? Least?
    A. Best: The feeling of family, when you don't have any relatives close by. Least: the people who don't really give their all...the ones who come every week, but don't build close relationships with others.
- Kevin West, American Canyon, California

8. For new volunteers, provide some sort of a screening and application process. Even something basic, offering the same information they would put on a job application and a short list of expectations, raises the bar in your ministry.

9. Never tolerate disrespect or sarcasm at someone else's painful expense. Disrespect infects and poisons. Gently and directly address it the nanosecond you hear it.

10. Q. What do you like best in small groups? Least? What works? What bombs?
      A. Best: getting past the masks people wear. Least: one sarcastic comment can move everyone back behind their masks. Works: being honest and genuine truly caring. Fails: bad breathe.
-Jerry Freeman

11. Sometime after this week's small group meeting, whether later in the evening or within 48 hours, make a point of affirming at least one person in your small group. Encourage them for a quality you saw as a result of something they said or did.

12. Avoid "Christianese," even with church kids, so that you set the example of talking about Jesus and faith in everyday terms. Think of ways to rephrase things so that someone who isn't as familiar with the Bible can understand.

13. Recruit a "Help team" to supplement your "Core team" of leaders. Your help team (even one or two people) are those not be called to youth ministry long term, but who want to help.
Example: parent volunteers who are more gifted in task-oriented activities more than aren't gifted in upfront or relational ministry. Their job description is simply to "do what they can when they can." They can help with greeting, audio-visual, set-up/tear-down, or praying from the back as you minister up front, etc. This keeps the pressure off them to become a mini-youth pastor while taking a few mini-loads off your shoulders.

14. Q. What do you like best in small groups?
      A. I love those who make people laugh and are a general distraction. Sometimes and often creating tangents to places undesired. Like this one time...
-Scott Damery, Bellevue, Nebraska
My goofball friend Scott was just being funny when he answered this question, yet this scenario can be irritating in a small group. Try not to let your exasperation out of the bag in front of teenagers. Instead, gently steer them back on track or ask them to hold off-road comments and questions until after group. (I've found that kids who really want an answer to a question will stay and those who just wanted to get a laugh will forget their own diversion.)

15. Don't grow big groups. Grow big people.
- Author unknown.

16. We need to think through whether or not giving someone a leadership position is best for their long-term character development. We don't usually think about it this way. We see the gifts someone has and then typically release them in ministry, trying to balance character as they go. But often times this can lead to a damaged heart and potentially one filled with so much pride that it short-circuits their ministry. Be mindful of who you place in leadership, and when. They don't need to be perfect (we certainly aren't), but there ought to be a balance of how we lead them in developing both their character and giftedness.
-Chuck Bomar, Portland

17. Q. Youth leaders: what's something you've implemented with your team that has raised the bar in your organization or ministry?
      A. Requiring that our and their personal development and adult spirituality was more important than "let's teach those kids something."
-Source unknown

18. Remember, it's a small group connect, not a small group teaching. You want kids to connect with the topic, you, and each other. If you mostly teach, you run the risk of kids disconnecting.

19. Open with something fun, that involves everyone contributing, like highs and lows. It helps break any tension or hesitance to share during group because now everyone has spoken, and they all survived.
-Mike Hammer, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania

20. Take everyday objects-glue stick, pencil, scissors, etc., and put them in a bag. Have people in the circle lift out an item and talk about how it relates to something God is doing in their lives or has taught them recently. This is a cool discussion starter, and you can almost always relate to what other people share about their items as well.
-Ryan Underwood, Duluth, Minnesota

21. Let the students teach each other. Small groups are not so much you, the leader, reading scripture, asking questions and then giving them some points. Ask open-ended questions that make them think, and then ask follow up questions like ...
      - "Do the rest of you agree with that? Why or Why not?"
      - "Anyone have any different thoughts to add to that?"
Go around and ask each person to read the passage and put it in their own words. The more you can be outside the box and let the relationship side of small groups take over the better. Part of building relationships is the discussion and the ability to agree or disagree with each other.
-Mike "Mookie" Cunningham, San Diego

22. Q. What do you like best in small groups? Least? What works? What bombs?
A. Most: Smaller size promotes interaction by all members. Least: They get cliquey really fast. Works: Food. Always have food. Bombs: Not having food.
-Aaron Stevens, Minneapolis

23. Icebreaker Questions (There are books full of these; check Amazon.)
      A. Gimme Five (favorite foods, things that make you cry, etc.)
      B. Choose Your Top 3 (fears, restaurants, etc.)
      C. Would You Rather...? (be wealthy or well known)
      D. Name Your Favorite (TV show, color, hero)
      E. If you could...? (go anywhere, have a do over)
      F. Have you ever...? (been in the ocean, told a lie and got busted)
      G. What if...? (you had a million dollars, were terminally ill)
-Small Group Training: Facilitating Discussions by Judy Gregory © Copyright 2003-2007 Youth Source, Jeanne Mayo Ministries / All Rights Reserved / Used with Permission

24. For us, interest based small groups work the best. One of our core values is: be yourself and find leaders who can be themselves with students who are being themselves.
-Andy Cass, Minnesota

25. Set guidelines and boundaries up front, usually on the first night. It's good for everyone to be on the same page, especially about the confidentiality of the group if serious accountability is involved.
-Erika Vaughn, Minneapolis

26. Instead of saying things like, "Good answer," simply repeat or summarize responses to your questions. This helps people pay attention and process what's being shared. Plus, it lets students know you're really listening. If you want to affirm the student, simply say, "Thank you," and when everyone's finished you can say something like, "These are all good insights."

27. Always use open questions. Yes or No questions get you nowhere in a small group setting. Be thought provoking. Kids talk when they're interested. They just need help getting interested sometimes.
-Joanna VanDerLinden, Milwaukee

28. Sometimes changing the setting of a small group helps people connect. We would sometimes wait for everyone to get to our house and then pile in the van and head to an ice cream place. We tried to pick a place on the quiet side so we could still talk. The switch-up added a bit of excitement and usually helped jump-start the relational piece.
-Ryan Underwood, Duluth, Minnesota

29. In our youth ministry we implemented a policy: Once a quarter every youth worker-paid and unpaid-takes one night off. They don't have to have a reason; just a personal break. It's one small effort against burnout.

30. I have always encouraged leaders of small groups to discern through conversation with their students, what passions, hobbies, and interests that they all share; a common denominator in the group. Once that is uncovered, figure out how that interest could define the group and move them out into the world for fun events and service.
-Tim Bistline, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

31. Learn your audience. What you will be able to accomplish in each of the groups will vary. Watch for the signs and ask the questions - it'll reveal a lot.
For example, the group whose favorite movie is Saw III might think on a different level than the group whose favorite movie is Happy Feet.
Signs: What are they interested in??When do they tune in??When do they seem disinterested? ?What's the weather outside?
-Small Group Training: Facilitating Discussions by Judy Gregory © Copyright 2003-2007 Youth Source, Jeanne Mayo Ministries / All Rights Reserved / Used with Permission

32. Study your small group discussion and provide it for your leaders to study ahead of time-a day or two prior to your group meeting, when possible. As veteran youth leader Jeanne Mayo says, "If you wing it, don't expect your students to get anything out of it."

33. Part of respecting other members of the group means being confidential with what's shared in the group. Don't be afraid to express this. Let people know that what they share is safe in the group and won't be joked about with others later.
-Jonathan McKee, Are Small Groups Worth It? www.thesource4ym.com/howdoi/staffhtrasg.asp

34. "People learn more from your admission of weaknesses than faking strengths. It builds hope that God could use them too."
-Rick Warren
As a leader, maintain relationships with mature adults in your life with whom you can share your struggles and be accountable. The healthier you are as a leader, the healthier your ministry will be.

35. Ask the kind of questions that almost always get a response. Closed questions are leading or limiting; they imply a "right answer" - "How did Jesus show his anger in this passage?" Instead ask, "What is Jesus feeling in this passage?"
-Rick Lawrence, Editor, Group Magazine, from 150 Jesus-Centered Questions (Group 2006)

36. The faith-shaping of teens is done memory to memory. Small groups provide a place where many memories, with the potential of strong and emotional ties, are made.
-Brenda Seefeldt, Occoquan, Virginia

37. More than ever these days, students are willing to embrace anti-biblical teaching that has been spoon-fed to them by people who believe they're encouraging experimentation, tolerance and independent thinking. Don't shy away from conversations with these kids, where you ask questions, listen closely and help them process information through the lens of biblical truth.

38. Don't just study together; serve together outside of small group times. A special bond occurs between those who have served together.
-Mike Hammer, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania

39. Three things you should never sacrifice on the altar (in the name) of ministry:
      A. Your alone time with Jesus
      B. Your family
      C. Your integrity

40. Make sure that by your hospitality and openness, students know the group is for everyone, not just people who look or talk like them.
-Ryan Decker, Minneapolis

41. Take advantage of free cyber mentoring with youth ministry articles and podcasts from web sites and ezines provided by Momentum, Simply Youth Ministry, Group and The Source for Youth Ministry.

42. Set up a CD player or iPod and speakers in the room your small group meets. Play upbeat music as teenagers arrive. Play music conducive to reflection and prayer for your wrap-up. If appropriate, play upbeat music again while kids hang out before leaving.

43. If you ever doubt the value of small groups and one-on-one mentoring, remember this quote from Jonathan McKee: "[The] increase in social isolation is creating a relational void in the lives of students today. We have an incredible opportunity to meet this need with something real, face-to-face relationships."
-Jonathan McKee, Connect - Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, (2009, Youth Specialties)

44. As you're developing young leaders, whether students or young adults, have them sit in on a season leader's small group for a few weeks. Ease them into a co-leader role by having them ask the opening icebreaker question. Give them the freedom to interject their own thoughts after teens' responses throughout the discussion.

45. After each small group, once teenagers are gone, "download" with your co-leaders. Process what you liked and didn't like, what worked and what could have been better. Encourage and pray for one another as you develop your facilitating skills.

46. Smaller groups not only help people open up in a "I have back hair and my father kept his toenail clippings in a jar" sense, but simple social interaction as well. It can be easy to hide in a crowd, as introverts like myself often do. But a small group isn't as intimidating, even if you don't know anyone. Extroverts, well, they're happy just to be around other people all the same. And if someone is a wallflower, another member will usually engage them quickly, unless the group has formed into a clique. It takes a lot of work to not interact [in a small group].
-Aaron Stevens, Minneapolis

47. Find a connection point and relate it to the message. It could be sports, music, movies, fashion, game systems, etc.
      A. When it comes to football, what are some ways you show responsibility on and off the field?
      B. What will it take to accomplish your dream of become a fashion designer?
      C. How is life like a video game?
      D. Tell me about an actor/musician that is using their influence to make a difference in this world?
-Small Group Training: Facilitating Discussions by Judy Gregory © Copyright 2003-2007 Youth Source, Jeanne Mayo Ministries / All Rights Reserved / Used with Permission

48. Care Tips for walking alongside a depressed teenager:
      A. Actively listen.
      B. Take the student seriously.
      C. Get on a schedule.
      D. Be nonjudgmental.
      E. Build and maintain trust.
      F. Challenge faulty thinking.
      G. Create positive affirmations.
-Group's Emergency Response Handbook for Youth Ministry.

49. On occasion, purposefully create a discussion that makes it easy for everyone to honestly share "where they are at" in life and their journey with Christ. The simple question, "Tell us something we could pray with you about this coming week that would really matter to you..." is an effective door-opener for this kind of discussion.
-Small Group Training: Facilitating Discussions by Judy Gregory © Copyright 2003-2007 Youth Source, Jeanne Mayo Ministries / All Rights Reserved / Used with Permission

50. One of the greatest things you can do to influence your students' perception of Jesus is to fall in love with Him on a regular basis and show them what that looks like in your day-to-day life.

51. Use illustrations and/or stories that anyone is able to share with their group, not only stories that are unique to you.
-Rod Whitlock

52. Answer the unspoken question of "How does this relate to my life?" Make sure that part of the discussion, usually the conclusion, clearly answers that question.
-Small Group Training: Facilitating Discussions by Judy Gregory © Copyright 2003-2007 Youth Source, Jeanne Mayo Ministries / All Rights Reserved / Used with Permission

53. Q. What helps you answer questions more easily in small groups?
      A. "When they're small-five people or less not including the youth leader, and when they consist of your friends. When you're big you're not compelled to open up and it's really intimidating."
-Anonymous 14-year old male

54. Q. How do small groups helps you grow spiritually?
      A. "It's got to have a good mix of responsible kids and rowdy kids. Too many responsible kids and it may get boring. Too many rowdy kids and it gets out of control. If it has a good mix, you'll have some good tangents but you'll still learn a lot."
-Anonymous 14-year old male

55. Q. What makes a good small group leader?
      A. "They have to like kids, relate to them, and know what they like. They have to be able to handle rowdy kids. If it's a year-round group with the same people, the leader should get to know all the kids individually."
-Anonymous 14-year old male

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