He clung to the column in the middle of the multi-purpose space, with big eyes and hair that seemed to be waving at everyone.
Not a good start, I observed from my spot nearby.
“Max” was a first-timer to our ministry and was dropped off by his grandmother—who was rushing away, obviously stressed, to go lead another class.
He was placed in my small group for the week and it wasn’t going well. In fact, anytime someone approached him, he’d run away and act like he was going to throw himself against a wall.
The ministry leader, intern and I quickly huddled up to discuss our options.
I recommended that we give him some space and time. I asked the likeable younger guy intern to keep his eye on him, but in a very low-key way, so we could make sure he stayed safe and in the room, while I concentrated on the others.
Occasionally, I’d look up and catch him watching as he leaned back against that solid pillar. I’d smile and keep right on going. When we’d start something new—an activity or a game—I’d glance his way and motion to see if he’d want to join. The first time I invited him, he just stared at me. The second time, he gave the barest hint of a “no” by shaking his head briefly. I decided to count that as progress!
When grandma came to pick him up, Max was still holding up that column, but had a more relaxed stance. He still hadn’t smiled. When I greeted her and she asked with concern how things went, I could see out of the corner of my eye that Max hung his head like he knew something bad was coming.
I told Grandma how glad we were that Max came, that I would like to get to know him better and that I hoped he’d be back. I leaned in and said I knew it was hard to come into a new place, but next time would be easier since he’d had a great view to see how things worked. He noticed everything! So he’d know right where to go and I’d be saving a spot for him.
And guess what? The next week, I was the one hurrying in, running a little late and who do you think was waiting for me on our small group rug, hands folded tightly in his lap, hair slicked down just so? Max.
Right then, I was so glad that we hadn’t called Grandma the week before to come and get him or made a big deal when she picked him about his lack of participation that first day. Really, kids have so little power and so little say on where they go and who they go with that it can drive them to extremes sometimes.
It turned out there was quite a back-story and lots going on at home—which is why he was staying at Grandma’s for the time being. But I’d never have gotten to hear it (or played even a small part in their lives) if we hadn’t adjusted our approach and given him several opportunities to join us when he was ready.
Who was your most challenging guest to your small group? What did you do that seemed to work?