How To Help Students Engage In Small Groups

Student ministry small groups come in all shapes and sizes. Some groups meet for a semester. Some meet by grade. Other student ministry groups function as one big small group. Some are student-led, others are led by adult volunteers. Some meet in the church building, others in homes or at school.

No matter what the style, if you have a group of teens meeting on a regular basis to grow in faith and edify Christ, you have a small group ministry.

Here are nine thoughts about helping students engage during these times.

Plan Ahead 

Read the material, write out questions and notes and pray for your group with plenty of advance time. Planning ahead is a loving and hospitable act by the small group leader. Of course, in an organic small group, the direction might change with one question, but being prepared will help no matter which way your group might zig zag during the conversations.

Focus On The Task 

Your main goal as a leader is to facilitate discussion and keep the group meeting and moving forward. Sometimes leaders get too caught up in the flow and forget their goal of progressing and leading.

Create A Sense Of Belonging

Start slowly, including everyone. Bring people up to speed who may not know the goal, flow or rituals of the group. Help students feel included. Pray for each student by name at times.

Silence Is Acceptable 

After asking a question, leave some space for people to think and formulate thoughts. It’s more art than science, but I will often allow some silence, then follow up after a few moments with the same question reworded a bit, then sit still again. Silence can be your friend. And even if students don’t speak up, they’re thinking.

Be Sensitive 

Put yourself in your student’s shoes. Some teens like to talk the whole time. Others’ never want to share. Some like reading, others would rather die than do so in public. If someone isn’t comfortable speaking or is having an obvious bad day, don’t push it.

Model Sharing 

When inviting group members to share an answer to a question, start by answering first. Get the ball rolling, give people time to think and model how to share effectively.

Don’t Put Them On The Spot

You can open the floor for people to talk. You can invite people to share. But don’t single one student out.

Celebrate When They Engage

What gets celebrated gets repeated. If you want students to open up, say “thank you” when they do. Let them know what they said was great! Include the phrase, “good question” as often as you can – these kinds of simple celebrations encourage kids to engage, ask and participate.

Outside Group Connection

Keep healthy boundaries with this, but check-in when a student is missing. Send a note or card. Follow up in a simple way – let them know you noticed and you hope things are ok. If you see or hear something great about one of your students bring it up and say congrats. At times, meet together, as a group, for something fun.


Book Recommendation

Book Recommendation: How To Lead Small Groups by Neal McBride


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