Gossip, iPhones, and Other Distractions

I have little recollection of what my small group girls looked like in 7th grade. However, I can describe their phone cases in detail, since that is what I predominantly saw when looking at their faces that year.

It seems like 7th grade girls have a need for distraction, and one of their best tactics to accomplish this is gossip. This completely shocked me because as 6th graders, the only times my girls talked about other people was when it directly related to them or someone close to them. They would bring up injustices around them with real concern.

But as 7th graders, they brought up the injustices around them as a means to talk about anything other than the task at hand. The majority of the time, the stories had nothing to do directly with them and were always thrown out at inopportune times. I would ask a question like, “What do you think Moses was thinking when he parted the Red Sea?” and one of the girls would respond, “Oh my gosh, do you know what happened at school this week!? This girl Tricia punched another girl because she was wearing the same dress as her and Tricia said she did it on purpose.” Mouths would drop open and the questions would begin, “Where did she punch her!?” “Did she bleed!?” “What did the dress look like!?”

I would take a deep breath, aware that our group was not going to be crossing the Red Sea that day, and dive in, trying to redeem the distraction with a lesson in friendship or some feely stuff like that, “Are you friends with Tricia or the other girl?” “No, not really.” “Are you thinking about trying to help either of them sort things out?” “No! I’ve never talked to them before, and besides, Tricia is bad news.” “Do you want to pray for them?” “No, I just thought of it and wanted to tell everyone.”

Keeping a group of middle school girls on topic while still being someone they enjoy being around is tough! Sure, you can use your authority-voice and scold them into compliance, but what’s the point of leading small if your group only follows you because they are forced? Here are a few things I’ve learned about steering my few through off-topic conversations without losing my mind or my cool:

  • Be Patient. Middle schoolers are testing the waters, learning the world around them by seeing what works and what flops. As they attempt to connect the dots, what makes zero sense to you might make perfect sense to them. Keep the big picture in mind: It is more important for your few to feel loved and heard than to have what you view as an on-topic discussion.
  • Go With It. Rather than awkwardly ignoring comments that seem irrelevant, ask the group the question, “How does that story connect to what we are talking about today?”
  • Draw Clear Boundaries. As your few toss out ideas and opinions, often about the lives of others, it is important to help your group to have real-life conversations without crossing into gossip. A warning sign that gossip is coming is if the story begins, “There’s a girl at school. I won’t say her name, but all of you know who it is…” When you recognize that one of your few is gossiping or speaking unkindly about another person, gently stop her immediately. Protecting the reputations of others will promote a feeling of safety and honesty within your group.
  • Use Bribery. Yup! It is possible to buy their attention. I’ll talk more about that next month.


Steph Whitacre August 6th, 2015 0 comments

To The SGLs of the Class of 2019 and Beyond

In January 2008, my husband and I volunteered to be small group leaders for high school students. We met with our church’s Family Ministries Pastor, and he welcomed us into high school ministry—with a twist. He asked us to start with 5th grade students, and move up with them through middle school, eventually graduating into high school programming. This wasn’t exactly what we had in

Steph Whitacre June 15th, 2015 0 comments

Oh Habakkuk

One of the most difficult parts of being a small group leader is knowing what to say in critical moments.

I have friends who always know the right thing to say. They sit down to counsel students in crisis, listen intently and respond calmly with things like, “You know, that reminds me of this life-changing verse I memorized in the book of Habakkuk…” Really!? They’re

Steph Whitacre May 18th, 2015 2 Comments

Turn In Your Burn Book

I’m one of those crazy adults who really enjoy hanging out with middle and high school students. Since you are reading this post, my guess is you are too. Which means you know how much your heart hurts when you see a student being teased or made to feel less than. We can’t always – okay, we almost never can – provide answers for why

Steph Whitacre April 10th, 2015 0 comments

4 Ways to Celebrate Your Few

Kool and The Gang had a great song titled:  Celebration.

(In case you think you've never heard of Kool & The Gang, maybe this will jog your memory: http://youtu.be/3GwjfUFyY6M?t=1m49s)

The chorus went like this:
"Celebrate good times, come on!
(It's a celebration)
Celebrate good times, come on.  Let’s celebrate."
Kool and The Gang got it right.  They knew the right time to celebrate. And my fellow

Jeremy Zach April 6th, 2015 0 comments


I am a small group leader.

I co-lead with 2 other awesome adults. We have the unique ability to bring all of our experiences together seamlessly and serve a group of high school guys who like to call themselves the 429 Tribe. This tribe has been around for almost 6 years now, and even though the name wasn’t established until last year these guys have

Guest Writer March 18th, 2015 0 comments

First Ever Camp

I have to admit, I was terrified the first time I went to camp. What was I getting myself into? Would I be able to connect with the 13 boys in my cabin? Would I get any sleep?

That was this past year and even though I was going as a 55 year old leader, my fears were probably not that different from those of

Guest Writer March 13th, 2015 2 Comments

Show Marvelous

Let’s face it. Middle schoolers can be difficult. They are in such an uncertain time in their lives – one foot in childhood and the other in adulthood. Unsure of who they are, they spend their time trying to figure it out and that process can be a little rough. They can be awkward and annoying and sometimes, even, hard to love.

They actually remind

Guest Writer February 9th, 2015 1 comment

Not About Me

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love

Guest Writer February 2nd, 2015 1 comment

Focusing Your Few

What do you do when you sit down with your few to start group and they are:

not focused
look bored to death
on their phones
listen to music on the BEATS
fighting or gossiping
watching youtube on their phones
braiding each other’s hair
punching holes in the wall
fidgeting with the pillows
screaming or crying
and the list can keep going on

Jeremy Zach December 1st, 2014 5 Comments