came across this video on youtube. If you are into social media… you should probably give this one a look:
This is the last part in a 5 part series of blogs on how to lead a small group of students in an effective way. Again, I must confess 2 things, #1) I am not a good small group leader, & #2) I picked all of these things up along the way by watching really good small group leaders lead. I am just passing along what I have observed in hopes that someone would find it very useful in their ministry.
10. Keep your group focused
One of the hard parts about leading a group of teenagers is that they all have different stories to tell, and most of them want to share them all the time. Stories are awesome and help students get to know each other better. I was sitting around on a retreat about a month ago with some students and they started telling me their stories… it was awesome. What was even better was that one student started sharing his story, and there were other students who had known him for a long time, who were just now finding out knew things about him. Stories are awesome. BUT, we have all had the experience of a story that derailed the group. You know, the story that just had to be shared in full detail… and 20 minutes later it’s over and you’ve completely lost the entire group. It usually isn’t us. It is usually a well meaning student who just needs a little leadership in that moment from us. One of the things that I have found that helps me in that situation is to say something like, “Hey __________, that’s a great story, and I know everyone would love to hear it. Why don’t we wait until the end of group to tell it so that you won’t be competing against group time?” It’s a good way to keep your group focused without coming off like a jerk.
11. Don’t Get Discouraged
We work with teenagers. Let’s be honest here… it can be discouraging at times. It’s discouraging when you have group time about abstinence from sexual activity and the next week a girl in your group tells you she and her boyfriend had sex. It can be discouraging when you’ve been pouring into a kid only to see them fall away from church. It can be discouraging leading those middle school boys who never want to talk about anything but video games, knives, and farts. But remember this: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9 Don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged.
If I was going to sell all my guitars and gear and buy a guitar (which i am not, of course) this would be it:
8. Maintain a certain level of confidentiality.
I tell all of my small group leaders that confidentiality is SUPER important, but they cannot promise a student that everything will be 100% confidential. There are just certain things that have to be reported (physical abuse, sexual abuse, etc…). So we say it this way, “maintain a “certain level” of confidentiality. Earning the confidence of a student is HUGE in leading them. If they are confiding in you, that means they trust you. If they trust you, that means they want you to lead them. When you say, “You can confide in me” you are really saying, “I care about you and want to help you grow.”
9. Respond positively to students remarks.
You would think that this would be a no-brainer… but it isn’t. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a leader tell a student that their answers or remarks were dumb, wrong, “Way out there,” etc… Those are always fun leadership moments for me (that statement was DRIPPING with sarcasm). We need to be careful how we respond to students remarks. How we respond will either encourage or discourage further input from that student (or other students, to be honest). Even if the student is WAY OFF IN LEFT FIELD with their answer or comment, we need to make sure that we are encouraging them to keep thinking, keep talking, & keep processing.
6. Don’t ask questions with Yes or No answers.
The point of a small group is getting students to process information out loud and to talk to each other. Questions that lend a “YES/NO” answer kill conversation. If you are looking for a Y/N answer, also ask “Why?” or use a quick follow-up question that gets everyone talking.
7. Don’t forsake COMMUNITY for the sake of CONTENT.
We all have done this. We have a sheet in front of us full of questions that we are “supposed to” get through, students are talking, and we shut down community in order to get through the questions… and b/c we have finished the page, we believe we are successful. Success in groups is not measure by how much material you get through but by how engaged your students were with the material. If you have 5 questions, and you only get through one… but students were connecting and talking to each other and about the content, that is success.
I want to continue talking about better ways that small group leaders can lead their students. In the last post we talked about 1. valuing students opinions, 2. not fearing or filling the silence, & 3. don’t feel like you have to know it all. Let’s continue:
4. Be prepared for group time.
There is nothing that sabotages a group time like a leader who is unprepared. When the leader fails to prepare, students feel devalued. In my experience, a little preparation goes a long way. The nights that I was most prepared were the nights where students seemed to really dial into what we were talking about. And prepared doesn’t mean “I read over the stuff 5 minutes before group time.” Take the necessary time to think through your material, pray for your students specifically, and watch what God does in your group.
5. Don’t do all the talking.
Ha ha! I know I am speaking to myself on this one. Students hear enough talk from adults. They need to hear their peers talk about God, life, faith, etc… That is the POINT of a small group. We need to learn to bite our tongue and get better at asking GREAT QUESTIONS instead of giving GREAT OPINIONS. John C. Maxwell put it like this in one of his leadership books, “Be impressed, not impressive.”
to be continued…
Okay, before I get too far into this post, I have to confess something: I am not a very good small group leader. I think it is because I like to talk too much. 🙂 So you might be asking yourself, “Then why are you writing this post?” Great question. I am writing these posts (this will be a series) because, I may not be a very good small group leader, but I have had the opportunity to lead many GREAT small group leaders. I have learned lessons by observing them and asking them questions. And the list I am about to share comes from years of failing at leading small groups and listening, observing, and learning from others who were, in my opinion, AWESOME at it.
1. Value Students Opinions, Views, & Insights.
When we discredit what a student has shared in a group setting, we are sending the message to the group that what they have to say or share is not valuable. If students feel like their voice is not valuable, they will no longer speak up. This is the #1 small group killer. I have failed at this one a lot. This can be a very subtle thing that we do. For instance: a student shares her opinion, but we immediately and unintentionally share our “better” one. It is like we are saying, “Your thought was good… but my thought is better.” What that student might feel in this situation is, “If you had a better opinion, then why did I even need to share mine?” They will eventually stop sharing altogether. This lesson is very important to learn as a small group leader.
2. Don’t Be Afraid of/Fill-in the Silence.
I hate silence. I mean, I need noise all the time. Music, TV, my own voice, etc… I mean, I even need a fan on to sleep at night. Okay, TMI. One of the things that absolutely drives me insane is awkward silence in a group setting. I am wired in such a way that I end up talking to fill in the silence. I’ll ask a question to the group, give a little time to respond, and if no one responds, I’ll just give my opinion. So group time becomes another teaching time. That is NOT good small group leading. I remember one of my leaders telling me, “Silence is okay in small groups.” I remember thinking, “You are weird!” But they said, “Silence means that they are actually thinking about what they are going to say. Sometimes you have to give the students room to think.”
3. Don’t feel like you have to know all the answers.
This one is tough for me because I like to know the answers. I like being able to help someone understand something new or different. I am a teacher in that way. But here is the deal, sometimes I really DON’T know the answer, and so I logically try to answer the question. That is NOT good. Especially if it ends up being the WRONG answer. So here is what I have learned. You don’t have to know it all. Students ask some really tough questions, and it is okay to tell them, “You know, I don’t know the answer to that one.” They will respect you more if they feel like you are being real with them and struggle with answers too. My new tag-line is this, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll do my best to find out.” And then I actually research it.