In the beginning, Sara was a wide-eyed observer. 

While the rest of the group crashed blocks or played house, Sara sat watching. 

While the others told stories from their weeks, Sara listened quietly. 

While her peers entered into a lively, but jumbled conversation about the Bible story, Sara’s eyes flicked from person to person, keeping up with the discussion. 

Don’t get me wrong, Sara was never ignored. In that first year, our attempts to engage Sara were countless. We directed questions to her specifically. We sat beside her in group. We engaged her parents at drop off and pick-up. Still, Sara observed. 

The school year ended. The small group took a summer hiatus. Then, Sara’s church small group was back in session. 

But this time was different. 

When Sara walked down the halls, people knew her name. When she walked into the classroom, she knew right where everything was. And when she saw her small group leaders, she saw two bright, shining, familiar faces! We had made the decision to move up with our same group. 

Sara began interacting with a couple kids she knew from her small group last year. They pretended together and when small group time rolled around, Sara occasionally added to the conversation. 

When the third year rolled around with the same leaders and a few familiar faces her own age, Sara began taking charge of playtime. Kids asked what she wanted to play and she told them. During small group time, she asked questions and clarified her understanding of the lesson. 

And by the fourth year as Sara’s small group leaders, she felt like our very own child. We were as comfortable with each other as family. We knew she preferred green to pink. We knew she hated the bows that matched her Sunday outfit. And we knew she had a lot of questions about John 3:16. She was really coming around to the idea of salvation and baptism. Finally, toward the end of our fourth year together, Sara announced in group that she was ready to be baptized. 

When we told her parents, they were thrilled, albeit not very surprised. For the next couple months, Sara could not stop talking about getting baptized. What she would wear. Where it would happen. What they would say. What it all meant. And that summer, Sara was baptized by one of her closest, most trusted friends—her small group leader. 

We have all had a Sara in our group. The painfully shy one that simply takes a little longer to warm up than the others. But once they do, it makes it so worth it. But what do you think would have happened if Sara started over each year with a new face and a fresh group of peers? Chances are, she would still be in her “Sara-shell” as we liked to call it. I’m not saying her salvation rested solely on the fact that my co-leader and I chose to move up with our group each year. Sara’s parents were paramount in her decision. They talked with her almost every night about their faith and how she fit into God’s big picture. They prayed with her and were the ones to first introduce her to the Bible verse, John 3:16.

But I like to think having a familiar face at church encouraged the process even more. So when your Sara stays in her shell week after week, just know: she is taking it all in. She is warming up slowly. And you are the constant—the familiar face—that will eventually bring her out.

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Lauren Terrell

Lauren has a degree in elementary education, led the same high school small group for the past 4 years, and will soon be learning the ins and outs of the preschool world as she and her husband clamber through parenthood with their new baby girl.

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