devozine

For Youth Workers Post

Facilitating Small Group Sharing

Craig Mitchell

YOU are being asked to stand beside young people while they are encouraged to take significant steps in their faith journeys. The spotlight is on them, not on you. From God’s perspective, each of them has potential for greatness. Your role is not to take these steps for them but to travel with them, offering encouragement, support, and guidance.

Here are some pointers to help you make the most of your small group time:

Find a Suitable Space

Set up your meeting space to suit the group. People communicate best when they are seated on the same level, close to each other, and can make good eye contact. Avoid a situation where people are spread out or where someone can huddle in the corner and go to sleep!

If you are meeting in someone’s home, ask group members to respect other people’s belongings and to leave the space the way they found it—or even a bit cleaner!

If you plan to meet outdoors, be sure that everyone in your group knows when and where to gather.

If you have a large group, you may want to divide into smaller groups, appointing a leader for each group.

Create a Welcoming Space

Your group members may or may not know each other well, especially if you have new members in your group. Help everyone to start on an equal footing by encouraging group members to welcome and care for one another.

You may want to assign each person a  “buddy” each week or every few weeks and to encourage these buddies to spend time together and to get to know each other better.

Create a Safe Space

The adult leaders in your group are responsible for ensuring that your meeting times and places are “safe” spaces for all members of the group, including the leaders. To protect the rights of the youth and the adults, be sure to follow Safe Sanctuary guidelines and have at least two adults—preferably a male and a female—present at all times.

Adult leaders need to be intentional about when and where you meet with young people. Schedule your meeting in a public place, and discourage youth from going off by themselves. Adults also have a responsibility to the young people (and to their parents) not to place them in situations that may appear compromising. This also applies to physical contact. For instance, while a hug may be an expression of care, it can also be misunderstood as a sign of affection or as an act of sexual harassment. A group hug may be fine; a one-to-one hug in private between an adult leader and a young person may not be appropriate.

Raise the Group’s Expectations

When we step out of our usual routine, we become much more open to growth and change. Spend a few minutes at the first group meeting asking the young people to be open to what God wants to say and do in their lives during your small group meetings. Encourage them to see this time as God’s time, when they can hear God speaking in many ways and can seek direction for their lives. Invite them to take the risk of being open to one another and to God.

Prepare Yourself for Each Meeting

Leading a small group can be challenging and rewarding. Take time between meetings to look over the leader material and to gather supplies for the next small group meeting. Do some research on the topic or the suggested scripture. Think about the kinds of answers and questions the young people are likely to raise so that you’ll be better prepared to handle them. And pray for each of your group members by name.

Before your small group, prepare yourself by taking five minutes for silence and prayer. If this is impossible, then try for one minute! Ask God to guide you as well as the group members. Begin each gathering with a short prayer.

Silences, Shrugs, and Show-offs

How do you cope with the kid who won’t talk and the kid who won’t stop talking? Here are ten tips:

  1. Don’t talk too much yourself. Good leaders are better at asking questions than giving answers.
  2. Silence is OK. People need time to think. Ask if people understand the question, or if they need more time to reflect.
  3. Ask probing questions to deepen conversation. Feel free to direct questions to particular individuals, provided that the questions are not too personal.
  4. Encourage the extroverts to give others a chance to answer. Say something like this: “Can we hear from some other people? Who else would like to share their thoughts?”
  5. Plan to do some talking in smaller groups and in pairs. Some people will never answer in a large group.
  6. Allow people to write their answers. This will help some folks to express themselves more easily.
  7. Give feedback. “I find it hard to concentrate when people interrupt. Can we work at listening to what each person has to say before we respond?”
  8. Give encouragement. “Thanks for sharing that. I’m sure it took a lot of courage to be honest with the group.”
  9. Watch for body language. You can tell a lot about how people are feeling by the way they sit and by their facial expressions.
  10. Take time outside the small group to be with those who are most difficult to deal with in the group. Often the shy person needs encouragement and the overly talkative person is seeking special attention.

Sharing Our Commitments

During your small group, young people will have the opportunity to commit or to recommit their lives to Christ. This may happen at different times and in different ways. These commitments may be shared and celebrated in your small group times. It is important to affirm young people in the steps they have taken. Be aware that sometimes their experiences or the words they use will be different from yours. Accept their experiences without judgment. There will be plenty of time for guidance later on.

The group may want to join hands or lay hands on each person who makes a commitment and to share in prayer for him or her. It is also helpful to give the young person the opportunity to express his or her own prayer. Be aware that making too much fuss over young people who make a public commitment or recommitment puts pressure on other young people to follow suit. God gives each of us the freedom to respond in different ways. Be careful about giving young people the impression that following Christ is only about “altar calls.” Our faith journey consists of many commitments or steps to deeper faith. Look for signs of growth in all of the young people present and be prepared to celebrate these together.

DIG DEEPER: Learn more about Starting Small Groups in Your Church.

Craig Mitchell is the National Director of Formation, Education & Discipleship for the Uniting Church in Australia. In his spare time, he writes devozine articles and “In the Habit” blog sessions.

—from devozine. Copyright © 2011 The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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