Katy Mills shares her tried and true advice for effectively leading a small group of young people at your church or at school.
Every year when small groups begin again at Calvary Christian Academy, I find myself thinking back on the students whose lives we have had the honor of being a part of over the past 15 years. This weekend my husband Aaron and I attended a beautiful wedding of one of his former CCA small group students. As we listened to this 23 year-old young man pray over his new bride and the wedding guests, we couldn’t help but smile and, for the hundredth time, thank God that we have been able to be a part of small group ministries. Leading a small group is eternal work. It is gradual and intentional work.
The little weekly meetings lead up to bigger annual milestones like graduations and college decisions and praying together over stressful situations. That's why small groups are an important part of the discipleship program at Calvary Christian Academy. Over time, they culminate in incredible moments that make you want to cry, like being the first one a young groom hugs right after he dances with his wife at a wedding reception, or receiving a letter in your mailbox from a girl who became a missionary and is thanking you for pushing her to go.
Leading a small group is eternal work. It is gradual and intentional work.
When I sit each week with my eighth grade girls, I am the fortunate one. It is humbling to be a part of the work God is doing in the next generation and to watch Him grow them up through their hills and valleys. As small group leaders, we stand in their cheering section watching and praying during some of life’s most formative chapters, and for me, the view never gets old.
For those considering joining in on this adventure of leading a small group of young people, here are some practical steps I have found to be helpful:
Create a mission. The most effective and fun way to do this will be to collaborate with the kids in your small group. Discuss what you want to learn, how you want to grow, and what you want to spend your time as a group doing. Kids will enjoy being invited into the process and will be more bought-in once they know what to expect of your time together.
Establish trust. Emotional safety is the most important component for a successful small group. Figure out what makes your students feel safe and provide that for them. Create some boundaries they can clearly identify and be held accountable to as a group. Additionally, learn about their interests and passions and show your support. This will help students know that you care and will make them feel more comfortable.
Identify the specific needs of your students. Every person has a unique will, perspective, and experience—children included! Take time to observe each student and make adjustments that will serve their personality. For example, do you have a student who isn’t comfortable speaking in front of a group? Arrange some hands-on activities to do together and then talk throughout. Give them a survey they can answer on their device and then discuss. Let them take personality and spiritual gifts tests and encourage them that way. That way, shy students won’t have all eyes on them when they want to share something.
Model intentional time. Have a plan for each time your small group meets. Preparing will show your students you care about your time together. Refer to your mission you created together at the beginning and plan activities and discussions that help you meet those goals. If you happen to run out of ideas, have your students create a topic jar. Each student writes down three topics he or she wants to talk about and places it in the jar. When you’re in need of a subject, pull out one of the suggestions.
Facilitate peer connections. Small groups are a great place for students to learn valuable social skills and make deeper friendships. You can help by giving students intentional, creative ways to encourage each other and grow in their friendships. Celebrate birthdays, ask students to write encouraging notes, do an honor chair, and make room for lots of fun and laughter!
We’re so thankful that years later the students at CCA still value the connections they developed with their peers and their small group leaders. And yes, meeting weekly with a group of kids can, at times, feel like work. But remember, it is eternal work. When you really take time to invest in a small group, the blessings of being a part of a student’s story and their growth are truly incredible and the impact is greater than we will ever know.
Katy Mills is the Executive Director of Communications and Engagement at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale. She has served in leadership at 4KIDS and now Calvary Chapel and has a passion for youth and discipleship. Her husband, Aaron, is the high school principal at Calvary Christian Academy. They have three children and attend Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale.