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 mind, but the idea of growing up alongside a group of students had appeal and we agreed to take on a portion of the Class of 2015.


As our group moved through middle school, I remember seeing “Class of 2015” written on emails and registration packets and thinking, “That is forever in the future.” I felt secure watching the classes of 2011, 2012, and 2013 graduate. I assured myself, “You still have time.”


Then the class of 2014 graduated, and the girls began saying, “We’re seniors now!” The last year was a blur, full of this-is-the-last-time’s and college prep, culminating in this past Friday when I watched those original 5th graders walk across a stage, tassels waggling from side to side, to receive their diplomas.


What had seemed like such a long time 7 years ago passed before me on 40 feet of high school stage. On Monday, we got together for one last time as a group. It was raining (in true Pennsylvania fashion) so we huddled inside to roast marshmallows over tea lights. We sat in a circle on the floor, like we have done literally 100’s of times, and reflected on the highs and lows of high school, celebrated the wins, and anticipated the future.


After the girls went home, I thought about all our adventures, mishaps, and milestones. Leading students is equal parts rewarding and challenging. If I had to do it all over again (which I will), I would give myself some pieces of advice.


Since this is a post about finishing a chapter, I’d like to share—in clichéd graduation speech form—some words of small-group-leading wisdom.


I present to you, leaders of the class of 2019 and beyond, what I have learned:


Find next-step-ahead mentor(s). It can get crazy out there. Students will throw you curveballs, whether it is the questions they ask or the actions they choose. Surround yourself with people who have been leading students longer than you. If you are the veteran in your ministry, widen your circle by reading books, interacting on blogs ( and are a great place to start!), and connecting with small group leaders from other churches.


Join forces with other adults. One of the greatest blessings in my experience of leading small has been walking alongside other leaders who are also invested in my students. There are days I think Chap Clark’s model of 5 adults for every 1 student is just as beneficial for the adults as it is the kid.


Partner with parents. History is one of the most valuable assets in directing the future. Nobody has a window into your students’ histories like their parents. Through both intentionality and happenstance, parents act as guides into the worlds of their children.


Remember it’s just a phase. When you feel like your small group is going nowhere spiritually or intellectually, take a step back and tell yourself, “It’ll get better.” I spent an entire year of middle school fielding dialogue about the hotness of the Jonas Brothers. I would try to direct conversation (“You know what else is hot? Hell. We should talk about how to avoid going there.”). But in the end, interest in the Jonas Brothers fizzled out and more important topics emerged.


Say I don’t know… a lot. Students will ask big questions. Difficult situations will emerge. You’re not going to have the answers, and that’s okay. The best thing you can do in that moment is say, “I don’t know, but let’s look for the answer together.”


Show up. Go to their games, concerts, recitals, and events. The first couple times, they might ignore you or act surprised to see you. They may even ask, “What are you doing here?” But if you keep showing up, they will stop being surprised and will welcome you by saying things like, “I’m so glad to see you here!” If you do it right, over time, it will be weirder to them when you don’t show up than when you do.


Don’t say goodbye. The truth is, high school graduation is not the finish line. Your group will overcome obstacles, change, and grow, but they will still need you post-graduation. On Monday evening, as ten cars pulled out of the driveway one by one, it struck me that it would probably be the last time all of us would sit in a circle and share together. Yet our conversations are just beginning.


And yours are too.

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:

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 0 comments

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

The Power of Traditions

We've probably all seen the power of celebrating traditions in our families (just think about your favorite childhood memories - I'm guessing a bunch of them will be connected to a family tradition or two).

But have you ever thought about harnessing the power of traditions for your small group? 

You should!

Traditions are powerful.

The traditions we celebrate have this crazy ability to bind us to the

Elle Campbell November 17th, 2014 4 Comments