They’ve Asked Me to Be a Small Group Leader in Children’s Ministry.
What do I do?
Written by Jeff Smith
Small Groups. It’s the building block of all `ministry. You are creating an emerging community. In children’s ministry the large group/small group model has made its way into all types of macro and micro programming. I recently had the opportunity to speak at a church that was changing their kid’s church model to a large group/small group model. I googled the subject to find a list of bullet points for teacher training and leadership development. But mostly, I didn’t find anything that fit the bill for this particular church. So, I decided to develop my own outline and share this resource on my blog.
This is an acronym base on the word of Dallas Willard, as far as I can tell. It outlines transformative ways to engage with God. It stands for:
MEANS. ( I sometimes substitute the word methodology here.)
To begin with, changing to a small group model involves two primary paradigm shifts. The first is spectator or volunteer to pastor. The second is a shift from teacher to storyteller. In my presentation this morning, I spent the first two hours on the latter subject. That material can be more than adequately covered in my book, “RIVET: Making Your Message Stick”. It is about engagement for effective communication. The ideas in that book are tried and true and very helpful if you want to be a better communicator.
I would like to use the VIM acronym to discuss the paradigm shift from spectator to pastor. Pastor? Does that sound intimidating? I’m not sure how you’re recruiting your small group leaders, but they need to know that their primary function as a small group leader becomes pastoral. So, we start with vision.
How do you see yourself in this role? Proverbs 20:19 says, “Without a vision, people perish”. If you can’t see yourself in an active role in a child’s spiritual formation, you’re not suited to be a small group leader. First of all, you’re working with a demographic that has the greatest opportunity for receiving Christ.
For years, church leaders have heard the claim that nearly nine out of ten Christians accept Jesus as their savior before the age of 18. If that statistic was accurate in the past, it no longer depicts U.S. society. The current Barna study indicates that nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%), and that two out of three born again Christians (64%) made that commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday. One out of eight born again people (13%) made their profession of faith while 18 to 21 years old. Less than one out of every four born again Christians (23%) embraced Christ after their twenty-first birthday. Barna noted that these figures are consistent with similar studies it has conducted during the past twenty years.
Ecclesiastes 12:1 says, “Remember God when you are young.” That sentence was written by a guy who wanted to tell everyone after him that you don’t have to get hit by a Mack Truck to know that it hurts, right? The School of Hard Knocks is people that want to learn the Hard Way. 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.
What are you here for? Let me introduce you to an idiom I’ve heard. THIS is not about THIS. That’s not easy to explain in a blog like this. The short answer is that you may think you’re presenting a lesson in a small group, but what you’re really doing is building relationships. This is your new mantra: Ministry is relationships, relationships, relationships. So be prepared to communicate a lesson but be intent on building relationships.
I had a friend in ministry who was called to rebuild an ark. Not any ark. Noah’s Ark. It would be a sign of God’s return. He called his church “God’s Ark of Safety.” He actually built a part of the frame along the highway outside of Frostburg, MD. It was an amazing story. However, Ken Hamm came along and beat him to the punch. (The Ark Encounter in Williamstown, KY, is a powerful experience and visual replica of that edifice.) The Lord told my pastor friend to build the church and he would build the ark. That’s what he was faithful to do. He reached many with the Gospel using the ark as sanctified bait. I’ve not spoken with him about how he feels regarding the ark. But THIS was never about THIS. Do you see? Relating the Bible lesson may not be the primary reason you are there. As a pastor, you are building an emerging community and developing relationship. No one cares what you know until they know that you care. That includes kids. They are very intuitive. These relational platforms will be the place of your ministry to these kids.
Finally, you have the meat of your outline. What is your methodology? Means will be provided for by the Children’s Pastors or kid worship teams. They will give you curriculum, space, supplies, etc. But how will you go about building these communities that you will pastor?
Let’s start with your greeting. I assume that most small groups will be age specific. The church I was working with called their small groups, ‘huddles’. It reminded me of teams. So perhaps you could have a team mascot? Your group could be the Wolverines? You might have a group cheer that you start or end small group time. What about first contact? Make your greeting unique. Learn names as quickly as possible. The next thing you may want to learn is love languages. Be strategic in your initial contact by better understanding a child’s love language. I know it’s a lot of work. But, it will pay huge dividends.
· words of affirmation,
· quality time,
· receiving gifts,
· acts of service,
· physical touch.
Generally, the large group time will be first, right? Use this time to watch. Hopefully, the children’s pastors or ministry leaders will lead worship. This is not your personal worship time. You do that somewhere else. A pastor does not use worship for their personal worship. Worship is the litmus test of a person’s spiritual condition. This period of service is your BEST opportunity to gauge where your kids are that day: emotionally, spiritually, physically, etc. Take note. Again, I have a great resource on this subject called “Points for Praise”. It’s on the subject matter of children and worship. My grandpa was a farmer. His old adage, “You got to make hay while the sun is shining” is relevant here.
Let’s assume that worship is followed by offering and then it’s small group time. Huddle time. Tribes. Pods. Camps. Classes. Schools.
Again, this short article is not about the communication component of small groups. It’s about the relational component. It’s not a small person. It’s a small group. It’s a community. There is much to learn about managing community.
First of all, it’s messy. People in groups are messy.
One child won’t speak or engage. The next one hijacks every conversation. Another, talks while you’re talking. Only one will pray aloud. Everyone is so self-conscience; especially the older grades. “He’s touching me.” Did I mention you also need to be a social worker, psychologist, doctor, policeman…Yikes.
These are typical small-group issues, and you will face them at some point if you haven't already. Here are some steps for addressing these types of small-group problems:
• Pray. Don't use prayer as a last resort; stay on offense with prayer. You’re talking to the Divine Creator of the Universe. He’s still the Smartest Person in the Room.
• 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 engage the topic?"
• 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. You can actually make this fun and not burdensome. Jim Carrey is not my favorite actor (anymore). But his teacher saw a 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 behaved 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.
As a matter of fact, there is only one behavioral problem that I would like to address here. REBELLION. Sin is attractive. Can a bad apple spoil the whole bunch? I know Jesus went after the one lost sheep and left the other 99….somewhere. But, that’s not a winning strategy in small group leadership. You have to consider the group first. 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. It requires discernment. It must be handled deftly and within rules laid out by the leadership. Here’s how I used to handle it as a children’s pastor.
First of all, 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.) My kid’s church was called “Tabernacle”. I did a lot of teaching within that construct of how God dealt with “sin in the camp” as told through stories in Numbers and Deuteronomy. God’s presence can not abide where sin resides. This is true on every level. Framing an issue this way was always my last resort. See the story of Achan in Joshua 7-9. But once I said it, I meant it. How many times have you been in public and heard a parent say to a child, “If you do that one more time, you’re going to get a spanking.” It makes me cringe. Not because of the punishment, but because when that action happens again, stated punishment is not carried out. Rebellion has no consequence. That is NOT a spiritual reality.
Once framed, I would 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.
There are some other tools and ideas you can use in managing your small group of children.
I’m not saying that your “successful” if your kids answer both of those questions well. But it doesn’t hurt.
If you’re taking the time to read this and feeling overwhelmed already, then I’ve misinformed you. “Greater is He who is in YOU than HE that is in the small group” The work is dwarfed by the rewards, and there are many. To include that most sought after commendations, “Well done good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)
(All of my books referenced in this blog are available on my website at www.saltandlightmin.org)
 Barna, G. (2004, October). Evangelism Is Most Effective Among Kids. Barna. https://www.barna.com/research/evangelism-is-most-ffective-among-kids/
 Gary Chapman, Ross Campbell, The Five Love Languages of Children (Chicago: Norfield Publishing, 2016).