Kids need the same things that adults do from a small group experience. The goals of small groups are 1) to connect to each other relationally through discussion, and 2) to process and discuss questions so members will unearth what they really believe. This sounds wonderful, but spoiler alert: kids are unpredictable and easily distracted! How can we capitalize on small group time and make sure we are hitting the mark?
Before you meet with kids, meet with God. Intentionally set aside some time to first read the scripture passage and the small group lesson well before your time with the kids. Ask God what He wants you to know and what He wants you to do. Your small group lesson should be chock full of open ended questions. If it isn’t, be sure to come up with plenty of thought-provoking questions on your own. If your small group time accompanies a large group teaching time, listen intently while that lesson is taught, as kids may have questions about that content.
When facilitating discussion, use the words, “The Bible says…” God’s Word is life and power. Our words are merely our words; His words change lives! Refer to scripture often, and open a physical Bible rather than your phone to limit distractions.
Small group times are meant to be discussions, not lectures! Encourage everyone to participate, but realize that some may be hesitant to speak during the first few sessions. Tell everyone in the group that this is a safe environment to share, and that what’s said in the group must stay in the group. Encourage more than one answer to each question. Questions will have more than one possible answer, and each person in the group has her own unique perspective. So be sure to ask, “What do the rest of you think?” or “Anyone else?” until several people have had a chance to respond.
Be comfortable with silence.
Don't be afraid of silence. Kids may simply need time to think before they respond. If the silence persists, try rephrasing the question until you are confident that the group understands what you are asking. Remember that even an eager group will quickly “shut down” if they think you will do most of the talking. Of course, after everyone has had an opportunity to respond, you can share your own insights. Be careful not to ever dominate the discussion.
Affirm answers whenever possible. Kids are often reluctant to speak up at first, but if they know you appreciate their comments they will warm up much more quickly. Simple words of affirmation such as, “That's a great insight,” “Excellent idea,” or “I hadn't thought of that before” are enough to show children that you value their comments.
Avoid shutting kids down.
Be careful not to reject an answer outright. When you reject a child’s answer, it is easy for him or her to feel rejected, and they may decide that it is too risky to give their opinion again. A better response would be to ask them, “Which verse led you to that conclusion?” Or let the group handle the situation by asking them what they think about the answer. This will stretch your group and help them grow deeper in God’s Word. Avoid going off on tangents, and guide them to see the big picture. If kids wander off course, gently bring them back to the passage and question being considered
Make it personal.
We're not interested in merely giving kids abstract information. We pray for life transformation! Whenever possible, steer the discussion in a way that makes the kids think of their own personal situation. Encourage them to develop action steps. How can they put these things into practice in their own lives today?
To help kids hone in on requests that they can see answers to, ask for prayer requests that are current and pertain to the kids. Write them down and pray for them throughout the week. End with prayer and also encourage kids to pray on their own. Remind them how simple it is to ask God, "What do You want me to know? Is there something You want me to do?" then be still and listen and jot down what you hear. Be sure to ask for updates on the requests from week to week, and celebrate answers which will help grow your kids’ faith.