I attend a conference on youth ministry every year called NCYM, National Conference on Youth Ministries. This year I attended a session given by a youth minister friend of mine who recommended these two books. The session he taught was on transitioning your church’s traditional Sunday Bible class format to a Sunday Small Groups format. Intriguing right?
When I first heard about this model for Small Groups that they were utilizing on Sunday mornings I thought, “Aren’t small groups for Sunday nights? Don’t they happen at people’s houses? How can you make small groups work for Sunday morning?” I’ve since then come around to the notion that this format may, in fact, be way more effective than our traditional classroom format.
After attending this session, engaging in several conversations, and reading these two books, our student ministry has initiated our first Small Group Sunday format for this spring quarter. We are attempting a test drive of this format to learn more about it and see if it’s something we feel we might want to commit to on a more long-term basis. I’ll tell you all about how we did it but first, here’s the 411 on these books.
“Lead Small: Five Big Ideas Every Small Group Leader Needs to Know” is the first of these two books and is the ideal book to put in the hands of your small group leaders (or, as the book calls them, SGLs). It’s a quick and fun read but it’s also packed with extremely applicable and important stuff you’d want your SGLs to know. The 5 big ideas the book focuses on for SGLs are…
- Be Present
- Create A Safe Place
- Partner With Parents
- Make It Personal
- Move Them Out
“Creating A Lead Small Culture: Make Your Church A Place Where Kids Belong” is the second book and this one is intended more for the staff member(s) and/or church leader(s) that would be the champion & mastermind of your small group ministry. This book is all about how to create a culture in your church that supports it’s small group leaders and their few (their small groups). It goes from how to recruit your leaders (emphasizing strongly going after the best of the best) to how to empower them to be more than “volunteers” by being the mentoring, authentic, superhero of their few.
The book sells this idea that circles are more powerful learning environments than rows. It advocates for discussions in circles over a concert or classroom format; not demonizing classrooms & concerts but aptly pointing out how those formats alone can come up short. As a youth minister, I know that they are right. Meaningful conversations fueling mentoring relationships is our most powerful tool for discipling students. Students need to feel know and that they belong and utilizing small groups in our ministry is a great way to accomplish those two things. “Every kid needs a PERSON and they need a PLACE.” – p24.
So, how did we go about trying this Small Group Sunday format? We started with a lot of prayer. Using this format was going to be thinking outside the box for us and we knew there was potential for causing some ripples with this kind of dramatic change. We also knew that small groups had the potential to bless our students immeasurably. Plus, it started to make sense that something that could be that effective at giving our students a sense of belonging would be important for our fringe students as well as our core group. Because we have the most students in our church building on Sunday morning, using small groups for Sunday morning class time started to make more and more sense. So once we decided we’d give it the old college try, we started praying for our future small group leaders that we needed.
To me, this was one of the biggest obstacles to overcome, getting enough volunteers. In deciding how many small group leaders we needed we first decided how to split up the groups. For our context, we had enough number on Sunday morning to give each grade, 7-12, a small group (boys and girls, together). So that’s 6 small groups with an average of 8-10 students in each group. Your own context is unique so don’t think this is the only way. Plus, after this spring quarter we may decide to change things up. So 6 small group with boys and girls means we are looking for 6 adult men and 6 adult women to lead these groups. It made sense to us to recruit couples. Furthermore, we decided that it’d help our small group leaders if they could share this responsibility with another couple so that being gone for a Sunday and help facilitate a conversation when students are sometimes not feeling like talking would be good. So we needed 12 couples who were willing to commit to 14 Sundays. We reached out to 28 couples, not just anyone but those couples who we knew would do well. To our surprise, 12 couples said yes. Prayers answered!
We got the 12 couples together to lay out the plan, do a little small group training, answer questions and eat dinner together. I made out curriculum for the whole quarter available on a shareable google drive and included a roster of the name of every student that would be a part of their small group. Then we got started!
For this spring quarter on Sunday mornings, we start with about 5 minutes worth of announcements and an opening prayer. From there I teach a “primer lesson” to tease up some of the content that their small group will be discussing that morning. I try to keep it concise, engaging, and leave them with a question. From there they split up into their small groups in different rooms (or half rooms) for about 35 minutes. They always start by going around the room and asking everyone the ups and downs of the past week (Something we call pows and wows. You might call them happys and crappys). Usually during this time one of the small group leaders will text me who all showed up to small group that day so I can keep attendance records for our students in a nonintrusive way. They then read scripture together and talk through 5 different discussion questions. In the end, I always insist the small group leaders take prayer requests and end each small group in prayer. I encourage them to write these requests down so they can ask about them the following week.
And that is pretty much it. I try to email or text our small group leaders every week to let them know when I’ve typed up the discussion questions and maybe include a video or short article from one of these two books on leading small to encourage, educate, or challenge them. We’ve only just completed our 3rd Small Group Sunday but our SGLs are starting to hit their stride and I’m very encouraged by some of the initial feedback I’ve gotten from the students, SGLs, and even parents! Not everything is perfect, we’ve had to tweak some things already. Not only that but it’s taken a ton of work. Much more than just setting up a teacher or two with a curriculum. But I’m hopeful for what Small Group Sundays could do for our student ministry.
Now I realize that this post has been more or a review on small group ministry than the two books but I wanted to give the context for why I read the two books. I highly recommend them both! If you have any questions about the books or our Small Group Sundays feel free to comment below or email me at Alanlmiddleton@gmail.com.
Next time I’ll be reviewing Lee Strobel’s “The Case for a Creator”.