Over the years, I’ve taken more than my fair share of budgetary questions, “How should we allocate our funds? Who oversees the budget? How strict should we be about overages?” The question I receive most? “I have a little money left over for the year, what should I do with it?”
My answer is always the same, “SPEND IT ON SMALL GROUPS!”
My mom and dad taught that where you spend your time and money is reflective of your priorities. If small groups are important, then we must devote time, money, and energy to see them succeed.
Parents bring their kids and students to church for different reasons: discipleship, babysitting, guilt, supplemental parenting, boredom, or even curiosity. Kids and students come to church for two reasons, to have fun and hang out with friends. Once we understand the needs and expectations of those we serve, we can begin to strategize. The role of a small group leader is complex. Simplifying the goals allows for clarity. Here are the three objectives of a small group leader:
- To CONNECT with mom or dad through meaningful conversations
- To ENGAGE with a kid or student in a fun and exciting way
- To FACILIATE relationships both as a mentor and with kids’ or students’ peers
Overtime in a multisite model, the quality of small group execution can start to vary from location to location. It’s easy to get frustrated and lay the responsibility square on the shoulders of the campus director. However, excellence starts with a healthy centralized strategy. There are certain elements that must be present or communicated to ensure small group leaders are set up for success. Let’s examine those essentials and consider how to create centralized strategies to ensure their implementation in a multisite model.
Coaching is not training. Training happens once a quarter in a multi-purpose room with rows of chairs and snacks. Only about 40% of your volunteer-base show up, and most of the time, it’s the 40% that don’t need training. I’m not a huge advocate of training, because it’s rarely as effective as I hope it will be. Coaching, on the other hand, has proven to be a valuable tool. Coaching is hands-on, in the moment guidance. Pair your more experienced team members with those that need assistance and watch magic happen. Put a rotation schedule in place so every small group leader feels supported and encouraged by the coach.
Tip for Multisite Implementation: Coaching starts with a centralized strategy, but often begins with a single location test run. I would advise you to implement this idea at one of your healthiest locations. Select small group leaders who lead the way and communicate well with their teammates. Set clear expectations and transition them to a coaching role. Coaches should split their time between on-boarding new volunteers and evaluating and supporting current small group leaders.
If you’ve ever led a small group for kids or students you know things rarely go as planned. Activities don’t always connect. A question that seems benign on the surface may bring unexpected tears. The new kid says something highly inappropriate and a gigglefest ensues. These unexpected twists and turns will lead to honest and impactful conversations. God rarely does what we expect. He works in mysterious ways. We can acknowledge that by offering options to group leaders. For example: “If this doesn’t work, go back to the game.” or “If a conversation is going well, don’t feel rushed to get on with the lesson plan.” Giving small group leaders margin with curriculum transitions allows the group to grow organically.
Tip for Multisite Implementation: Once you’ve established a coaching model this technique can be demonstrated through hands-on training. In the meantime, clarify your expectations through central curriculum emails.
Notes and Nuggets
Have you ever read a lesson plan and imagined its execution in your mind. You probably began to think about what you would do and not do, how you would divide kids or students into teams or how you would celebrate a correct answer. Experience leads to expertise. You know how to make it happen, but don’t assume every small group leader operates as you do. It’s important, as you put your lesson plan together, to provide helpful execution tips along the way. These little nuggets of informational gold set your leaders up for success and teach them how to begin to think as you do. I would also encourage you to leave space on your lesson plan, whether below each activity or in the margin, for notes. The goal is for small group leaders to fully engage with the kids and students he or she is leading. Giving leaders space to work out details encourages them to take ownership and spend additional time in preparation. It won’t be long before they too are executing run-throughs in their mind.
Tip for Multisite Implementation: At the beginning of every activity provide helpful advice for execution. Tips like, “This activity works well when kids or students are sitting on their knees” or “Have your group stand in a circle before placing the blindfold on” can help with flow, limit distraction, and save time. This will promote excellence and consistency across all locations.
Great small group leaders create a welcoming and exciting atmosphere for the kids or students in their groups. They facilitate friendship and fun. They can discipline with a smile, and make everyone feel as if they belong. If you read that statement and thought, “I just want mine to show up and know the lesson plan,” maybe the issue isn’t commitment, but rather health. Healthy small groups are lead by healthy small group leaders. When was the last time you checked on the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of your team? The roll of the small group leader is the most important, and you must treat it as such. Handle those volunteers with great care. Meet with them regularly to assess their well-being. Provide leadership development books, devotionals, and prayer journals, and make sure those individuals are sitting under the preached word every week. A spiritually starved leader feels inadequate and unable to do that which has been asked of them. Inadequacy leads to departure. Not only will those individuals produce less than stellar environments, but it’s likely they won’t be around for very much longer. No one enjoys feeling like a failure. You can avoid that by prioritizing the health of your small group leaders and providing a steady stream of nourishment to your teams.
Tip for Multisite Implementation: Make room in your central curriculum budget to purchase a leadership book or prayer journal for every small group leader 2-4 times a year.
Whatever curriculum you choose to use, it’s important to make it easy to read and understand. If instructions aren’t clear, execution will be less than mediocre. Consider providing step-by-step instructions for each activity or conversation, as well as diagrams or pictures of the resources he or she will use. You can even provide example statements for them to say at the beginning of each activity. When you take the guesswork out of lesson prep, you ensure consistency and build unity among your teams.
Tip for Multisite Implementation: When preparing small group supplies centrally or on the campus level, offer clear visuals to group leaders by including a completed sample of each craft or activity.
Kids and students don’t walk in the doors of your church ready to learn about Jesus. Wouldn’t that be amazing? They come hoping to have fun and see friends. If they walk straight into a Bible study upon arrival, you’ve already failed to meet their expectations. Whatever your curriculum selection, it’s important to provide small group leaders with conversation starters. The foundation of a healthy small group is trust. Trust takes time, but starts with authentic conversation. Set your small group leaders up for success by offering a “Would you rather…” or “The grossest thing I’ve ever seen is…” fill in the blank.
Tip for Multisite Implementation: If conversation starters are not included in the curriculum you select, make sure to provide 3-5 questions or discussion topics in your central curriculum email to help break the ice.
It takes time to prepare a lesson that will both engage and connect. Honor a small group leader’s commitment by providing the lesson plan to him or her in a timely manner. Passion is smothered by lack of preparation. If you don’t “get around” to emailing out the lesson plan until later in the week, you shouldn’t be surprised when leaders shows up and read from the script. You haven’t made it a priority, so why should they. A 5-7 day preparation window allows leaders to read over it, consider what they will say, memorize key parts, and apply Biblical truths in their own lives. A healthy small group environment starts with excellent preparation, and that starts days in advance.
Tip for Multisite Implementation: Have the team or individual that oversees curriculum centrally write the lesson plan email each week. This email should be sent to campus directors no later than Tuesday. Leave a few fill-in-the-blank options for campus directors to personalize. This will ensure curriculum emails are clear, consistent, and sent in a timely.
Notes and Nuggets
The point of a small group is to connect with kids, students, and parents and make an impact. Without a connection, influence is lost. Without influence, it’s only a matter of time before your ministry loses priority and is superseded by a million other alternatives.
In a multisite model, it may seem impossible to centralize personal connection. However, strong systems and clear expectations allow for success at the campus level. Ask yourself the following questions as you begin to evaluate your strategy.
How are we growing our kid and student small group leaders as a church? What’s our strategy?
Have we communicated that a connection is more important than a schedule?
Do we provide margin for group leaders to personalize their lesson?
Are lesson plan instructions clear and easy to understand?
Do we offer execution tips for those harder-to-understand activities?
Are we setting small group leaders up for success with conversation starters and icebreakers?
Is the lesson plan provided to the small group leader with ample preparation time?
To check out additional Multisite Monday articles, click HERE.