Last night, our family was invited to a campfire for S’mores and a birthday celebration. We arrived without our oldest daughter and several people asked where she was. I couldn’t help but smile inside when I answered, “She had an activity with her small group tonight.” The responses were fun to watch. Lots of double takes. “Her small group? She has a small group?”
Yes, she has a small group. Last January our church moved from a “Sunday School” model to a small group model for our elementary-aged kids. It’s not an easy move to make. We asked our volunteers to be willing to serve every single week for the entire school year and to commit to building relationships with their kids. We asked for intentionality in their prayer times and willingness to go “off script” to minister to kids as needs arose. We asked them to be willing to take church outside of the walls of a building and build relationships in the larger context of life.
We have a long way to go and we are learning our way around this new-to-us way of “doing kids ministry” but I can tell you as a parent, I am convinced that small groups hold a unique power to connect and engage our kids in a deeper walk with Christ and the local body of the church. Here are five things that have helped me come to that conclusion and may help you if you are considering a small group model for your church.
1. Small Groups Encourage STRONG Intergenerational Relationships – One of the biggest reasons our church decided to move to a small group model was to creating a space where kids would be able to build significant and deep relationships with at least two adult members of the church. That’s also why we asked our leaders to commit to serving for the full school year so our kids had the opportunity to build those trust relationships so necessary for their spiritual discipleship and growth. According to Fuller Youth Institute’s study on faith that sticks in youth, “intergenerational relationships are one key to building lasting faith in students.” Small groups facilitate those relationships in a powerful way.
2. Small Groups Encourage STRONG Interpersonal Relationships – Kids move in a variety of circles once they hit school age. They have their school friends, their neighborhood friends, their sports friends and their church friends. But unlike the other friends, church friends may only see each other for an hour at most each week. Creating relationships with one another is virtually impossible in large group or classroom environments with such a limited amount of time. Small groups remove those barriers and turn that small quantity of time into meaningful quality time and allow deeper relationships to form with intention and Christ-centeredness.
3. Small Groups Encourage STRONG Church Attendance – One of the biggest struggles facing churches, and especially children’s ministries, today is the decline in regular attendance of families due to many conflicting pressures. Currently a “regular attender” could be described as a child who attends church 2 times a month meaning that child will only be in church roughly 24 hours a year. In a recent seminar I attended with Gina McClain (KidMin at Faith Promise Church) she pointed out that as children develop relationships with one another and with a small group leader, suddenly missing church means missing them, and they are more likely to attend more regularly and to attend one service time more consistently. And guess what that means? The parents who are bringing them are attending more regularly too and the small group effect reaches beyond the children and into the family and home.
4. Small Groups Encourage STRONG Families – This one may seem counterintuitive as it would appear that small groups are encouraging relationships outside of the home, but we have found that our kids involvements in small groups have actually strengthened our relationships. Not only do we know that there are adults in their lives that we can trust, our kids love to come and talk to us about what happened in small group and with their leader each time they meet. Instead of the standard, “What did you learn about today?” followed by the typical, “Jesus” answer, our kids are excited to share the conversations and activities they experienced because they are built around relationships instead of lesson plans.
5. Small Groups Encourage STRONG Active Faith – One of the things I love best about small groups at our church is the focus on building relationships through praying for one another, sharing life together, and studying God’s Word together. In small groups there is room for kids to ask questions, wrestle with struggles, dig deeper into Scripture, and walk through good and bad times with one another. Faith becomes something that happens in relationship not in a building and affects all areas of their life, not just the ones that happen on Sunday. The lesson become lived out in lives and faith is activated by the “spurring on of one another to good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).
If you are interested in looking more into small groups as a avenue for your kids or church, check out the Lead Small App available FREE for Apple devices. This app allows for leaders to create a Small Group list, track prayer requests, read blog posts, and, if your church uses Orange, the Orange curriculum can be viewed there as well. To see all the great aspects of the app, check out this training video and be sure and check out the Lead Small blog online.
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About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com