One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “How do I structure my small groups?” I find that some ministry leaders have a hard time getting their head around the change from a Sunday School classroom to a Small Group structure, or they simply believe that they are one and the same. Let me clarify: Grades grouped together do not equal small groups. If your church is small and the kids are consistent, they may seem like small groups, but in most churches an intentional small group is going to look different from the first grade class, for example.
Why does this matter? I’m so glad you asked! We believe that life-change happens in relationship. In order to build those relationships, that will someday lead to life-change, we believe each kid in your ministry needs to have a small group of kids that they can do life with on a weekly basis as well as a small group leader who shows up for them and their family consistently. We believe that a small group leader is going to be able to do for their few what you, as a ministry leader, cannot do for many. This structure is so important in partnering with parents and truly beginning to transition to a church that “Thinks Orange.”
I want to give you some practical things to do or consider as you are structuring your small groups moving forward:
Setting up a coaching structure will help you model to small group leaders what we want them to do for kids. For every 8-12 small group leaders, recruit a coach. That coach needs to be your point of contact. Then the coach can coordinate their team, care for them, cheer them on, support them on Sundays and run interference when needed. These need to be people who can help you cast vision for the bigger picture of what you want to see happen in the lives of kids and families. They will become the small group leaders for your small group leaders.
Keep Small Groups Small
As you divide kids into small groups, do not assign more than 8-10 per group. I like to keep it at eight and leave a little room for new kids who want to be with their friends. But, in order to make this successful, you need to assign kids to a specific group with a specific leader. In my last church I did this for a church of 5,000. It was a ton of work behind the scenes. It took us weeks to get every child assigned to a small group leader. We had to rework our entire database. BUT IT WAS SO WORTH IT! During the tedious work, remind yourself of the bigger picture.
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Consistency is not Optional
As you are recruiting small group leaders, make sure they understand their role is to be a consistent face that their kids see every week when they show up at your church. You will get some pushback if you’ve never asked this of your volunteers. You will have people who will say they only want to serve once a month or every other week. When this would happen in my ministry, I would politely explain that my job at the church was to fight for what was best for kids, not most convenient for adults. What is best for kids is consistency. Sadly, it has become a rare commodity in the lives of far too many children. So, if you serve in our ministry, you serve weekly. For those that did not wish to do that, there was a great sub list that we would add them to.
The Right People on the Team
Make sure the people serving in small groups are a good fit for their volunteer role. Make sure you have the right people on the bus, but also the right people in the right seats on the bus. This is key to making small groups work. If you have someone who is out of touch with social media, they may not make the best small group leader for your tweens. If you have someone who can’t get down on the floor and play, they may not be the perfect match for your toddlers. Make sure you interview new volunteers, asses their gifts, give them a small group to test drive, and always follow up to make sure it is working for the kids in that group and the small group leader.
The Right Kids in Each Group
“Sorting” kids is no small task. You want to make sure you are looking at several factors when organizing your small groups. Their age or grade is important, but you also need to think about where they live, where they go to school and whom they are already connected with. This is where you have to be flexible, if you have never had a small group structure before. You will have kids ask to move groups. That is okay. We want them to love church and love their small group leader. Work with their families to figure out the best fit!
If this is a new concept for you, it is not something that will happen overnight. Set realistic goals to begin making changes. You might decide to spend your summer slowly implementing change. The fall is a great time to kick off with new coaches, small group leaders and small groups. Don’t forget to get leaders on board with your vision first. Remember, you are not asking them to fill an empty slot on your Sunday list; you are calling them to a vision of seeing life-change happen for kids and families in your community! Volunteers want to be asked to do something significant. Give them a great vision to step up to and into in the days, weeks and months ahead.
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