There it is—the blank stare. If you lead a 5th grade small group, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the moment when you ask a question, and no one in the group says a word.
5th grade can be one of the hardest grades to lead. After 5 years of elementary school ministry, nothing seems new to them anymore. They start to mentally check out of the typical church curriculum. Most of them are showing up because their parents are bringing them. Some decide not to even show up at all.
At our church this year, we noticed that while senioritis was the case for some of our 5th graders, some of the small groups were thriving. We watched and listened, trying our hardest to figure out the secret to these dynamic small groups. We found five common factors to the best 5th grade small group leaders:
1. They showed up consistently. This may sound obvious, but it is worth stating. The groups that were most successful were led by small group leaders who showed up week after week. This communicated to the kids that they cared. Kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care.
2. They spent time together as a group outside of Sunday. Don’t worry—this didn’t happen every week! Most of the groups only hung out together outside of Sunday once or twice a year. However, the leaders mentioned that during small group, kids would constantly refer back to “that time they went bowling” or “that time we baked cookies at your house.” Time spent together outside of Sunday allows for a mental shift from kids only seeing you as the “Sunday School Teacher.”
3. They fostered friendships within the group. The kids that were the most consistent in attendance repeatedly said that they came back because they knew their friends would be there. At this phase, kids want to be with their tribes. As the leader, fostering those friendships through fun is a necessity to keeping them engaged. If the focus isn’t on you 100% of the time, don’t worry. This is a good thing!
4. They created a feeling of exclusivity. Some kids in your few have been in the elementary environment for a long time. Creating ideas, events, or even questions that are exclusive to 5th grade keeps them engaged. They feel independence in knowing they get to do something no one else gets to do!
5. They challenged the group. There is nothing 5th graders like more than a challenge. However, the idea of challenging the group doesn’t just apply to games. Some leaders created challenges pushing their group towards maturity. Repeatedly criticizing your few can be demoralizing and embarrassing. Creating behavioral challenges gives 5th graders an opportunity to achieve success.
As 5th graders head into middle school, they need the truths that you have to set them on the right trajectory. This is why we have to strive to stay relevant, maintain influence with them, and finish well. That last part is especially important.
What is something you have seen work to stay relevant with your 5th grade few?
By Alston Causey
Elementary Director at Gwinnett Church