HMM: Difficult Small Groups
Written by Michelle Murray-Schlitt
Series Intro: There are often Hard Ministry Moments (HMM). These moments require you to dig deeper, trust God harder and often step up and take leadership in an area. They often weigh heavy on the soul and are moments you will always remember.
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Small Group Leadership can be both a deeply rewarding and fruitful journey, and a trying and difficult season. Depending on your church culture, group size, group composition and personality styles, small groups can range widely in style. Regardless of these factors, the core function of a Small Group should always remain the same:
To build deep relationships with kids based on conversation, fun and long-term investment, in order to provide guidance and direction in their walk with Jesus.
This is a simple definition, and as stated above, manifests quickly in multiple different ways depending on where you are and who you are with, and that’s okay! There is no one perfect way to run a small group, but lots of different and equally awesome ways that you can influence kids for Jesus.
In this short article, let’s take a look specifically at what happens when we are in a position of leadership over what we could characterize as a difficult small group. These groups are ones that either don’t organically get along, are not interested in participating in church grounded discussions, or are simply there only to hang out with friends and be a little rowdy. An important point to make here is that even though a group may be difficult to lead or be exasperating at times, the value and purpose of the group remains the same, as does the value of each individual in your group. It is still your job to point your kids in the direction of Jesus and build community and friendship with them – it will just look a little different than how you might have imagined.
When I became a Small Group Leader, I was coming out of 6 years of great small group leadership with strong groups that had helped me grow in so many ways in my walk with the Lord. As a middle schooler, and even as a high schooler, I saw my leaders as the coolest of the cool and loved hanging out with them. I loved hearing about their walk with Jesus, and through their guidance I came to want to walk with him too. When I graduated I was excited about giving back to a new generation of girls what had been given to me. I wasn’t necessarily prepared to deal with the dynamics of my current small group as they have come together.
I’ve learned a lot since then and looking back I can see where Jesus has worked in our ‘difficult’ group. To give you some context: I am currently leading a group of 15-20 girls by myself, the vast majority of whom do not have any previous church experience, and many who remain uninterested in having one. They have rapidly fluctuating friendship dynamics and from week to week someone will be mad at someone else. Though our small group times don’t look like how I imagined they would when I first started leading, I’ve found a lot of joy and reward in spending time with these girls. Here are three things that I’ve learned about leading through leading this group. Whatever your ‘difficult’ group might look like, I hope that they can help you in finding peace and direction in your context:
Set Different Goals
As I touched on above, every group has a different way in which they walk towards Jesus together, and there is no one perfect way. Even though we know this in our heads, it is easy to feel frustrated or disappointed when we feel that we’re not making progress, when our kids aren’t asking the questions or having the conversations we want them to have, or when we spend a whole small group time talking about boys. (It happens more often than I’d like to admit!) The goalposts we set unconsciously for ourselves actually don’t have to be there. It’s important to think about the bigger picture and reframe ourselves within it. There is so much value in having silly conversations and building relationships. Instead of looking for immediate results, we can play the long game and create spaces where our kids feel comfortable, and where eventually the conversations we are hoping for can take place. There is value in every moment, don’t underestimate the value of spending time growing in friendship with your kids! When one of my girls comes running in excited to tell me about their new crush or seeks me out to tell me a story – that is a reward for me and tells me that the time we have spent together is not wasted at all, but that I am building into something.
Keep in mind as you plant seeds that you might not be the one to reap the harvest, each individual has their own story and timeline of when they will come to know Jesus. Your role might just be to make church a place where they had fun once or create some good memories. “People will forget what you said and did but will always remember how you made them feel.” If our goal can be to create a space in a church context that kids are comfortable in and have fun in, that’s a victory. Look at things through heavens eyes and count the small victories as big steps towards Jesus!
Be Clear about Expectations
While you want to create an open and fun space for your kids, it’s equally important to make sure that it is still a space that honours Jesus. This point is important as well because if your kids aren’t coming from a church background, they actually might not know what is expected of them! Without proper communication, you will just grow frustrated when they don’t follow the ‘rules,’ which they might not even be aware of in the first place. This is an easy fix: be clear that while having fun and hanging out is a part of what we’re doing here, so is listening to sermons and engaging in conversation together. If you are clear and straightforward from the beginning, you have that conversation to fall back on if you do need to disciple your kids a little bit, and they understand the reason why you’re shushing them! Of course, it’s crucial to always be graceful and kind, but don’t shy away from being a leader as well as a friend.
Finally, don’t stress it. If your group is messy and crazy, take heart because Jesus works best in the messy and crazy. He is there in the volleyball games, in the hugs, in the drama and in the long-winded stories about that one friend who did that hilarious thing at school that one time. He is taking what little we give as leaders to create a lot of beauty. Have grace for your group as he has grace for you. Trust him and lighten up, Jesus is a better small group leader than you anyways!