Being a small group leader — by its very nature — is difficult. And the bigger the group, the harder it is.
My group currently runs anywhere from 11-15 students, and the energy I’ve used trying to get them to focus for 40 minutes of lesson is ridiculous. For the last couple years it seemed I spent more time telling people to be quiet than teaching them.
That is until about a month ago, when I completely revamped how our small group operates. The changes I’ve made have led to us having our best month of small group in the 3 years we’ve been together. And while I’m not saying it makes everything perfect … it’s working really well for me. So if you have a bigger small group — and are feeling frustrated — here’s a quick look at someting that has helped me.
The day of small group — I text my guys with the passage of Scripture we’ll be reading that night, a reminder to bring their Bibles, and a couple questions to think about if they decide to read the verses in advance (only a couple do … but hey).
7-7:15 — My guys trickle in. When I feel like most people are there we start off with “Story Time with Devon” (he always has a crazy event from the last week to share. I only mention this because it sort of helps in getting people quiet). I then recap the passage & questions from the text and tell them to break up into their groups.
7:15-7:45 – Everyone breaks into groups of 3-4 people. These groups — which are the same each week — were divided by me to hopefully be socially comfortable (hey, my friend is in here!) but also a little challenging (hey … I’ve never spoke two sentences to this guy!). Spending time really creating a good relational mix for each group was important. Spiritually mature with immature. Distracted with focused. It takes time to find the right tensions, but is worth it.
Each group is led by a student who I see as one of our spiritual leaders and who I’ve explained the new vision to and asked to help (I invited the guys I wanted to lead to my house on Sat. morning for breakfast). The leader’s job is simple: keep the group on task. Make sure the group reads. Encourage them to ask and answer questions — the ones I gave them but also, hopefully, their own insights.
7:45-8:20 – The groups come back together. Here’s where the payoff for ME kicks in. Because my guys have already read the Scripture AND been thinking about it, they’re more inclined to participate. Rather than me doing a “cold open” where I have to convince them they should listen, they already have questions they want to know the answers to. Or things they’ve thought of and want to share. At the very least they’re more likely to answer questions I ask. And I think there’s something about having been in a smaller group for 30 minutes that makes them a little calmer too.
The key I’ve found in this time is to let them drive the discussion (I simply open up the floor to any questions/insights they had), but slowly leading them to a key idea from the passage that I think is important. So if we’re reading about the woman at the well, and the question I gave them is “what obstacles were in the way of Jesus talking to this woman?” then I will slowly ask follow up questions to their answers. The goal is for them to see how the obstacles between Jesus and the woman aren’t that different from obstacles they face when talking to people about Jesus.
Usually by this point, there’s a cool “ah ha!” moment where a Bible passage they’ve already engaged personally becomes alive to them.
8:20-? – I then send students back into their same groups to pray together. Usually I encourage them to pray about something directly connected to what they just read. Again, the student leader drives this conversation, but in a very laid back way. His job is to make sure everyone is encouraged to share if they want. What I’ve found is that — since my guys largely drive themselves to/from group– they will continue to hang out well past our 8:30 end time, just catching up with each other.
So basically in one small group night: our students spend at least 45 minutes in groups where they know everyone and feel listened to, they engage the Bible on their own, that story is made relevant to their life, they gain some keys on how to read the Bible for themselves hopefully, every person gets a chance to pray/be prayed for, and all I have to do is lead 30 minutes of discussion where most of my job is simply to ask follow up questions.
It’s been pretty nice.