I remember when I was in 9th grade PE… it was spring term and our teacher decided she was going to spend the quarter teaching us “track and field”. We would spend Monday – Thursday learning the events then competing on Friday. It was fun… until we got to the relay race. For some reason, I just couldn’t get the hang of the relay hand off—passing a metal baton from one person to another while running as fast as you can. Not an easy task… and I’ll admit, I dropped the baton more times than I successfully handed it off. I guess I just never got a handle on the secret to successfully passing the baton.

In student ministry, there is the occasional need to pass the baton between leaders. It’s inevitable, for whatever reason, there is going to be a time when one leader has to leave and a new one has to take over. But how can we make this transition as smooth and positive as possible for the Small Group Leader and the students? Here are a few suggestions for transitioning well:

Exiting leader… if possible:
• Make sure to communicate to your students personally – this will help them understand the change and know you value the relationship that you are stepping back from.
• Communicate with the parents of your students – let them know you are transitioning out and take the time to introduce (and talk up) the new SGL. This will help reassure them that their child will be well cared for.
• Connect with the new SGL to offer any insight to him/her about the group – history of events, things the students enjoy (or hate) doing, where you’ve had big wins with individuals and the group as a whole. However, be careful not to “poison the waters.” If there is a student you don’t necessarily connect with, don’t throw them under the bus with the new leader. Just let them know where some potential (general) issues might be.

New leader… if possible:
• Let the previous leader have their time with the group to tell them they are leaving. The students have formed a relationship with this person and you want them to “grieve” the loss before jumping in and expecting to pick up where they left off.
• Value the relationship of the previous leader—try not to be a replacement but a new influence in the student’s life.
• Connect with the parents early on to help establish a relationship and to remind them you are here to partner with them.
• Early on, emphasize relationship with your students over teaching. You need to “earn the right to be heard”. So take the time to get to know your students – listen to them and get to know what they do and who they are. As you establish a relationship, you will have opportunities to speak truth in their lives.

Wouldn’t it be nice if transitions were easy? They may be hard, but they can be easier if we go into it with the best interest of the student in mind.

*What are some ways you have seen effective transition of Small Group Leaders?

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Kristie McCollister

Kristie has worked with students for 25 years as a director of student ministries, a small group leader, a Sunday coach, or a coach for student sports teams.

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