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Pro Tips for Leading Small Groups


So, you’re leading a small group this school year in the youth ministry? That’s so cool. Whether it’s your first season or your 35th thanks for investing in the lives of teenagers. It might not seem like it every week, but it makes a huge difference.

So… I’m a small group leader. How do I actually do that?

Here are a few of my favorite tips for small group leaders.

Pro Tip #1: Be you

One of the most important things you can do as an adult leading a small group of students is just to be yourself. God has created you uniquely. It’s easy to over-think stuff and try to hard to fit in. (And it’s just awkward for everyone when a 38 year old mom tries to act like a 15 year old to fit in!) But put yourself in your students shoes: They are actually in a developmental stage where they’re trying to figure out who they are. You just being you is the healthiest thing they can see.

Pro Tip #2: You so texty

I text my small group guys just about every week when they get out of school. If you have a smart phone, just set up the group as a contact and text them all at the same time with a reminder of when you are meeting. I’m intentionally not chatty with my guys over text message. But it’s a great way to cover logistics.

Pro Tip #3: Get Loco and Meet the Parental Units

I want the parents of my small group to know who I am and I like to make sure I know a little about them, too. Meeting the parents can explain a lot. (Oh! You are less weird than your mom… that explains a lot.) When I have younger students, 7th-9th grade, I like to communicate with parents fairly regularly. I find telling them what you are talking about in a general way really helps. Plus, if there’s just something I can’t figure out about a student in my group, having some form of a relationship with parents makes it easier to talk about.

Pro Tip #4: Silence is your friend

If you are new to leading a small group, silence is  going to feel like the enemy. The opposite is actually true. It’s perfectly OK to ask a question or talk about something and to allow some silence to occur before someone speaks up. The best and most introspective stuff often comes when you ask a question and just wait. If you think about a teenagers day-to-day interactions with adults… there are very few times when someone will actually listen to them. Be that person in their life!

Pro Tip #5: Don’t talk about your time in middle school or high school

Students find it much more interesting to make parallels to my current life than they do for me to share stories of “when I was your age.” The simple reality is that you might have been their age one day. But 2013 is a lot different than 1992.

Along the same lines, do take some time to understand developmental stuff about adolescence and do take time to reflect on what it was like to be in middle/high school. Remember the intensity of relationships? Remember the pressure? Remember the really good and the really bad days? That kind of context is good to keep in mind, just don’t rely on old stories as a crutch.

Pro Tip #6: It’s about the Bible, mister

It’s easy to talk about “stuff” and it’s easy to allow your small group to wander all over the place. But I’d like to encourage you to remember to have students spend time in the Bible each time you get together. Some of the easiest, deepest, and most meaningful times in small groups has just been reading the Bible together and going through and asking, “So what does that word mean?” Or “what does that have to do with you?” Or “What did that mean to them?” As Christians, we believe the Bible is not just an ancient book with some great things to say about Jesus. We believe the Bible is “is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

For those who have lead small groups for a while, what are your “pro tips.

7 Responses to Pro Tips for Leading Small Groups

  1. Brian Lucas September 4, 2013 at 11:57 am #

    Great post! Sharing this with my small group leaders in about 30 seconds.

    I’d add:

    #4b: Be silent and let your kids speak. Preach from the stage. Let them work it out in the small group.

    #7: Encourage conversation. Ask open-ended questions, and follow up for more/deeper info when they answer. If they give a complete answer/response, ask the group for their thoughts. Get THEM talking about it. Then redirect or focus if they get it wrong or off-topic.

  2. Paul Turner September 4, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    #8 Schedule quarterly hands on sessions where kids practice what you have been teaching.

  3. Kurt J. September 5, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    * Become an expert at asking good questions…then listening.
    * Remember your audience. It’s not about what you want to teach, it’s about what teenagers want/need to experience and learn.

  4. andyblanks September 5, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    One add, Adam. I will often text my guys early in the AM about the time they’re walking out the door to school. Try to encourage them for the day. So, instead of an addition, maybe it’s an addendum to your second tip. :) good stuff

  5. For the Love of God September 5, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    I think in a small church setting the pressure is to have a big youth ministry mentality when in reality a Small Group approach would be much more effective for a lasting faith. Love this post. Also like the “new” look to the blog Adam.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • adam mclane September 5, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

      Agreed. It’s funny because both large and small churches have a numbers issue. Big churches are trying to break it down into bite sized groups to increase their impact. Small churches are trying to level up to increase their impact.

      That’s part of kind of why I look at them as two very different types of youth ministry. A person who works at a big church has a hard time grasping the day-to-day realities of a person in a small context and visa versa. In reality, we’re both on the same team so it’s all good. :)

  6. kolby September 6, 2013 at 11:35 am #

    Love the tip on texting. Just shared this article with my adult leaders. We will try to implement some of this in the fall!

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