One of the most important ingredients to our success in leading small is time. It takes time to get acquainted. It takes time to build trust. It takes time to create a safe place that your few all recognize. Unfortunately, many SGLs don’t make it long enough to reap the benefits of time. Other great leaders’ time is cut tragically short. Sure, some leaders step out because of work or family related reasons. However, many good leaders burn out quickly simply because their group consists of out of control and rambunctious kids. Whether its a mouthy group of 4th grade girls, a wild bunch of hyperactive 2nd graders or a back-talking and disrespectful 5th grade boy, most people are only going to put up with so much. Grand ideas of influencing life-change are dashed against the disappointing reality of behavior problems.

What’s a leader to do?

The solution isn’t meant to sound patronizing, but it is fairly simple in design. Execution is a bit trickier, but entirely possible.

The solution: Lead the Group.

Well, that seems obvious, right? I mean, the title of the job is “Small Group Leader.” Yeah, sometimes it’s not that simple. But understanding a few things will take your weekend experience from something you survive to something you enjoy.

It’s important to understand what behavior issues really are. They’re uprisings. Miniature rebellions. Attempts to steal leadership. A coup de ta if you will. The key to SGL success is to put down rebellions, divert uprisings or simply put: lead the group. I’m not suggesting martial law or a totalitarian state of control. No, leading the group can be gentle and affirming but when it’s being done well, every kid knows who is in charge.

Sometimes kids just need to know their boundaries. Whether your environment has stated rules or guidelines, you might needs some specifically for your group. They might be as simple as “Respect yourself and Respect each other.” You don’t have to call them rules, but maybe your “code” or “group values.” If behavior has been an issue, begin with establishing the boundaries. We have to be clear on where the line exists so every kid knows when the line is crossed. Re-establish the boundaries every time you meet. Ask the group to agree to them.

Sometimes kids need to know you’re serious – establish consequences. Let the group know what happens when certain boundaries are crossed. It could be as simple as a three strikes policy: a warning followed by time away (have the student sit with a coach (temporally apart from the group) followed by a conversation with mom or dad. As you re-establish the boundaries every week, remind them of the consequences.

Sometimes kids need to know you care. So, follow through. Every kid knows the boundaries. Every kid knows the consequences. Every kid agreed to the arrangement. The hardest part, but what I believe is the finest expression of love, is to follow through. When someone crosses a line, you call them out. Be gentle but firm, not argumentative but swift. It won’t take long before kids recognize that there’s a new sheriff in town and it’s not them.

Don’t miss this. This isn’t just behavior management. It’s discipleship. You’re helping your group grow and mature in a very specific way. Your consistency communicates that you care for them. In the moment, their eyes may communicate hate, in time they’ll verbally express their love. It takes time, but you’ll love what you do more than you ever imagined possible.

Just simply lead the group.

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Kenny Conley

Kenny Conley, a 15-year veteran of Children’s Ministry, currently serves as the NextGen pastor at Gateway Church in Austin, Texas. His passion to see the next generation come to know and follow Christ propels him to constantly rethink how the church approaches ministry to kids and their families. Kenny loves to network and collaborate with ministry leaders around the world to push ministry to new levels. He lives in Texas with is wife Sara and children, Titus and Genevieve.

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