by Stephen Ingram
When I do small group training I often like to talk about the 3 “Be”s of Being a Good Small Group Leader. This is obviously not an exhaustive list but can certainly serve as a great reminder for all of our small group leaders as many of us are heading into retreat season!
I know this seems basic but I think we all would be really surprised how tempting it is for small group leaders to put off preparation and just wing it when they get there. We stress that good preparation leads to better discussion. It is not that we are asking the leaders to prepare well in order to teach some array of profound lessons. We are asking them to prepare well so that as the conversation progresses, they will be comfortable enough with the material to step back from the “teacher” role and into a facilitator role as the youth begin to explore the topic for themselves. We try to aid our busy leaders by giving them the small group guide a month before the actual retreat. This allows them to marinate in the material and really soak it all up in a timely manner. We give the guide to them early because they need it as we enter into our mandatory small group leader training meetings. These are mandatory because we believe in the importance of the material, the community that forms and we want the leaders to be invested in what they are doing long before the weekend. This produces better, more prepared, and more comfortable leaders for our retreats.
As we all know, much work and many pages have been written recently about the importance and necessity of relational youth ministry. If you still need convincing, read Relationships Unfiltered by Andrew Root and Kenda Dean’s new book Almost Christian. While many of us are well versed in the importance and technique of this ministry with teenagers, very few of our adults, parents and other small group leaders are. This is no surprise, as I imagine very few of them are reading youth ministry blogs and books. We make sure to, in an abbreviated form, teach our small group leaders the importance of relationships during our training. One of the most effective ways we do this is by asking one simple question: “Think of the most influential person in your faith as a youth (more than likely it is a youth minister, small group leader, Sunday school teacher or someone involved with a ministry to youth). Now write down three sermons, small groups or bible studies that they taught you.” It is really funny how this works. Most adults just kind of chuckle and make a self-depreciating wise crack about their age. After a few of these, someone usually pipes up and says they were influenced by the relationships and the intangible more than any thing that was ever “taught” to them. Point proven. Game. Set. Match. Teaching helps, relationships are vital.
This is the most difficult thing that small group leaders (especially adult leading youth small group leaders) have to deal with. No one is comfortable with silence. Frequently, small group settings (especially retreat small groups) turn into a game of silence chicken, usually with the adult bailing first! We have all grown up in a culture where we are constantly surrounded by both audio and visual noise. When there are times of silence, we rarely know what to do. When I train small group leaders, I usually give them two rules that work almost every time:
1. The 30 second rule. After you have spent some time in the small group and people are adequately loose, it is OK to begin to ask some thoughtful open-ended questions. Never ask a yes or no questions because that is all you will get back: a yes or a no. So when it is finally time to ask your thoughtful, prepared, open-ended question, do so and wait. Look expectantly, smile, but wait. Look at your watch when you ask the question and do not say another word until 30 seconds are up. I know some people are thinking that this might be a disaster, but I promise it will not. You just have to wait out the silence treatment. If you outlast them, they will break and will not want to have to experience that awkward sort of moment again and BOOM! You have them!
2. For that 10% of the time the 30 second rule does not work, have a couple of students already picked out that you can call on. These students need to be ones that you know, know you, and will not run from the room if you ask them a direct question. If you pick the right student, it can create a sense of ease and trust among the group.
As I said earlier, this is not an exhaustive list but is a great starting point in helping your small groups be a place of learning, relationship building and smaller community in your ministry!
Stephen Ingram is a dad, husband, and foodie. He serves as the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Ala. He has a BA in Religion from Samford University and a Masters of Divinity from McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta. Stephen has worked as a student minister for more than 13 years and also serves as a consultant with Youth Ministry Architects. He lives in Birmingham with his wife Mary Liz and their three kids Mary Clare, Patrick, and Nora Grace.
Stephen’s book Hollow Faith: How Andy Griffith, Facebook and the American Dream Neutered the Gospel is now available from CYMT Press. He blogs at organicstudentministry.wordpress.com.
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