I’m of the belief that there are some who are just naturally intuitive in how to lead a small group, but a much larger portion of the youth ministry leadership population need some training and experience; either way, I hope these quick ideas may be a blessing to you and your leadership of a small group.
Opening Questions: Because the goal of a small group is often community, take some time to get everyone to talk so that when the conversation gets a little more serious, all participants will already feel more comfortable speaking. [Questions like “If you had to be in an existing reality TV show, which one would you choose? Why?]
Don’t Rescue The Silence (too quickly): Leaders/Facilitators often fear silence. When you ask a question, don’t rescue the group by providing the answer; some are processors and are willing to speak, but just need time to form their thought (likewise, don’t correct the answer, even when wrong, rather, ask the rest of the group, “what do you all think of that answer?”).
Know Where You’re Going, But Allow Alternative Routes: If you’re studying a passage (or using a curriculum) know the major areas you want to touch on, but know that your group may have an alternative route to get to the destination. Allow for rabbit trails (some of the best learning can take place by allowing students to ask questions or tell stories that take you a different direction).
People Watch: Shepherding a group requires great attention to the dynamics of those gathered. Notice the silent one (he or she may be screaming something by their non-verbals). Pay attention to those who sit together and those who may seem to avoid each other– catching these things early (and naming them privately) may lead to greater dynamics later.
Change-Up: Every so-often break the routine and do something completely different. For me, this means I take the group on an experience instead of just doing regular group [examples: meal night, people watching project at a mall, serving project, athletic event of someone in the group].
Speak It Into Existence: There are times when a group simply needs to hear that you love them and believe in them (even when they are acting unlovable). You give permission to them by naming the fact that you love being with them and that you see them maturing.
Keep It A Safe Place: Unfortunately just about every environment a student enters has the potential for harm. You have the opportunity to establish a group as a place of refuge! Encourage them to avoid the foolish chatter & jokes and establish an affirmation environment.
What other quick tips do you have for successful small group leadership?
BRIAN AABY is the director of YS SEARCH & COACHING, assisting churches with personnel placement and provides coaching guidance for youth leaders. Brian served for 17 years as a youth pastor and then founded and led Youthmark since 2008. Brian speaks nationally at churches, camps, conference, and events. He and his wife, Elisabeth, have three children and reside near Seattle.