by Randy Christensen/ October 25, 2016
Kids want relationships, just like anyone else.
Years ago, my preschool son was playing in the sandbox at a local park with some other children. He ran back to our picnic table and cheered, “I have a new friend!”
“What’s his name?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied, “but he PLAYED with me!”
Kids build relationships through interaction and shared experiences. Small groups can facilitate those relationships between children and their leader. A small-group leader takes time to relate to each child, and not only by name. This leader may be the adult a child can look up to, a leader who can know and care when the child is missing, sick, or distraught because their dog died, etc.
At my church, we strategically plan breakout groups titled “Friend Groups.” We want this to be more than a lecture time from an adult. It’s a place where kids build friendships as they interact.
Some of the keys for effectiveness include:
1. Break groups down to as small as possible. If we have eight fourth graders and two leaders, we do not have one leader guide the discussion while the other leader observes. We divide the children into two groups–four kids with each leader.
Often, with any groups of more than five, we’ve found that three or four of the children participate in the discussion while the others observe. With a group of 10, once again, three or four will speak, but then six or seven will only observe or, worse yet, disengage. Having a leader that interacts with a small group of students (hopefully less than seven) is a key component to keeping focused, positive participation.
2. Include a tactile connecting point. One week we used apples as an object lesson, so the children ate apple slices during “Friend Groups.” Another time, we used Scripture puzzles to review the verse of the day. A different session, the kids made a simple craft that reinforced the lesson theme. Children took them home to help facilitate discussion with their parents. When learning to “cast all your cares on the Lord,” they wrote worries on a small piece of paper and threw them into a small pail and prayed for each other. Using objects helps them focus and relate the lesson to their own lives.
3. Use third person scenarios. Rather than asking, “What should you do?” build a brief scenario and ask “What do you think that child should do?” An example: “At recess, Johnny saw someone picking on Suzie. Suzie walked away crying. What do you think Johnny should do?” Putting this question into the third person is less threatening for children. It doesn’t put them “on the spot,” but insights and options are discussed, and discernment is encouraged.
Discipleship thrives in relationships. Keep on building kids through times of small-group relationship.