Get The Ball Rolling In Small Groups

Courtesy of Steve Snodgrass/Creative Commons License

I’ll never forget my first small group experience.  I was leading a group of sixth grade students and didn’t know exactly what to do.  I had the set of questions in front of me that would guide me. However, I wasn’t entirely sure how to use them to formulate life changing conversation.  So I decided to go off script and ask them a question from the heart.  I said, “How old do you think I am?”


Their answers ranged from 35 to 50.  I was only 24.  At that moment I knew that leading a small group of middle school students wasn’t going to be as fluid as I thought.
For many of you and your ministers leading a small group for the first time can be intimidating.  Even if you’ve lead groups for years, if you have a new crop of students breaking the ice can feel like punching through a concrete wall with your fist.  Before you panic, it’s important to realize that leading a group is a slow growing process.  To get to the point where the group is having deep conversations takes times.  That’s why to get the conversation rolling you need to:

  • Share Yourself – Teens need to know if they can trust you and that will happen as they get to know you.  Share a little bit about yourself, who you are, what you do and what you were like when you were there age.  Don’t show off, just be authentic and matter of fact.  Prepare what you are going to say and allow them to ask questions after you are done.  Follow up with saying, “That’s me and I look forward to get to know you.”
  • Ask Simple Questions – If you are writing the questions for your leaders it’s always best to start off the year with simple questions.  If the questions are simple the teens will be more inclined to answer them.  You want to set your group up for success because early on no one wants to sound stupid in front of their peers.  Make sure you use questions that everyone can discuss.
  • Let Them Talk – Sometimes you need to break the ice by letting the teenagers lead the discussion.  In the first couple of gatherings your goal should be to get everyone comfortable with one another.  That might mean talking about school, football or Angry Birds.  Try to guide the conversation so that you avoid gossip and slander; however, let them talk.
  • Embrace The Silence – If there is silence, embrace it because everyone is a little hesitant to make the first move.  If you constantly fill that silence by trying to dominate the conversation you just might shut down any potential sharing.  While you don’t want the whole 30 minutes to an hour to be utter silence, make sure you don’t rush to speak. Just remember to give it time.
  • Set Expectations – Make sure you let the group know the purpose of your small group.  For many of them they are there because a parent or a friend invited them to join.  They might expect it to be fun; however, they probably won’t expect it to be a place of safety, challenge and growth.  Give them rules and a vision for what this group will do for them and their faith.
Those first few weeks of small group are a challenge; however, once you are in them for a year or so it’s amazing to see the growth.  Small group leading takes persistence and the ability to allow the Holy Spirit to lead.  That’s why it’s important to start and end every group with a prayer.  Let God co lead alongside of you.
How do you get the ball rolling in small group conversation?