Hope and Help for Leading a Small Group

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In my opinion, being a small group leader entrusted with leading application after the Bible lesson is the most challenging role in the Sunday school classroom. So much depends on following the lead of the Holy Spirit as you try to discern the thoughts and attitudes of the students and then encourage their responses God-ward and heart-ward. And what a challenge that can be…with a group of seven wiggly first graders or a group of seven sports-obsessed fifth-grade boys! So maybe this year you have found yourself in this new role and are not sure what to do. Maybe you even feel frustrated and are ready to simply let the students have their way and be squirrel-y or talk sports. Don’t give up! There is hope and help.

Here is the hope: While it is challenging, being a small group leader can also be one of the most rewarding roles in the classroom.

Here is the help: You can grow in your ability to effectively lead a small group. Here are a few pointers:

Before the Lesson

  • Study the lesson carefully and prayerfully. Ask yourself: How does this lesson apply to my own life? Are there things I need to confess to God? Are there areas of my life that need to be transformed?
  • Study the lesson and application questions in light of the students in your small group. Are there particular questions that you would like to zero in on? Make a note of these. Are there additional questions you believe would be helpful? Write these down.

During the Lesson Presentation

  • Listen to the lesson carefully and be ready to take notes if necessary. Sometimes a teacher might veer from the written lesson texts and/or key themes. If that happens, you need to be thinking about how you will address this in your small group time.
  • Observe how the students in your small group are reacting and responding during the lesson (i.e., are they attentive, bored, confused, etc.?).

During Your Small Group Application Time

  • Begin with prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide the discussion.
  • Ask questions that will encourage students to briefly summarize the main point or key themes from the lesson. For example ask, “If your parents ask you in the car what you learned, what would you tell them?” Sometimes a brief review will be necessary.
  • Move the discussion along—ask questions to get the children thinking along the right lines, and then move to the next question.
  • Ask the children to reflect on their own real life personal experiences and then direct these reflections God-ward. Here is an example from a lesson titled, “God Will Be with You.”

Ask: Can you think of a time when it was a help to you that someone was with you—that you were not alone?

Child responds: When I had to get a shot, I was glad my mother was with me.

Child responds: My sister went with me to get something in the basement.

Ask: Can your mother or your sister be with you all the time?  No. Why not? Why can God be with you all the time?

  • Share a brief personal example to encourage the children to respond and open up—giving personal examples shows that you, too, are in need of the Lord, and this encourages them to open up.
  • Zero in on a child’s statement and follow it through to personal application. For example,

Child: I have to go to the dentist this week.

Ask: Brian, will you go to the dentist alone? [No, my mother will bring me.]

Application: God is good to give us mothers. Mothers are good helpers. Who else will be with you? [God] Yes, God is with us everywhere, all the time. He is the very best Helper of all! Brian, when you go to the dentist this week, tell Jesus that you are a little scared. Ask Him to help you. Ask Him to make you brave and strong.

  • Lead children to praise God/to pray for one another.

Let’s pray for Brian and ask God to help him when he goes to the dentist…

  • Use the Word to bring truth to specific situations.

Ask: What Bible verses did we learn today that can help us when we are afraid in these kinds of situations?

  • Give an application assignment; a way for them to follow through on the discussion—report the next week.
  • Be sure to include all the children in the discussion—draw out the quiet ones.
  • Relate to child individually at the end of the class (e.g., I used to be nervous about going to the dentist too, Brian. But I know that God will go with you. I will be praying for you. What day are you going to the dentist?).
  • Be verbally and facially encouraging to the students when they respond.

Most of the above was taken from Sally Michael’s seminar “Reaching the Heart: The Importance of Application.” I would encourage all small group leaders to listen to the entire seminar here and follow along with her notes. Better yet, listen together with other small group leaders and share and compare your own experiences, encouragements, and helpful solutions. Add some food to the event, and make it a special time of fellowship together!

(Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Written by Jill Nelson

Jill Nelson

Jill Nelson is a wife, mother, grandmother, teacher and author. She has taught Sunday School for over 20 years and writes God-centered curriculum for Children Desiring God.

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