The move to the large group/small gorup model has been a challenge. This was a significant change. For the longest time, ministries would program 60-90 minutes of large group. This was no easy task as keeping a group of kids engaged for that long required creativity and skill. Over time, certain segments developed and became a part of the weekend experience. Adding small groups to the weekend experience was a huge change. This meant adding a new 30-40 minute element to the weekend experience that hadn’t ever been done on the weekend experience. This meant discarding 30-40 minutes of what had been done each and every week in your children’s ministry.
Yes, when you’re programming a 60-90 minute large group experience, there is a little fluff. Less time to have to program is helpful. But getting rid of 30-40 minutes was pretty big. Some ministries were trying to fit a 60-minute program into their new 25-minute spot. It doesn’t work. The number of things that were done in a 60-90 minute program just wouldn’t translate to the large group/small group model. Figuring out what to cut has been a painful challenge.
This is where small groups can really help. Some elements that were a part of kids church could translate to the small group. Actually, some things are best done in a small group context. Allowing small groups to adopt certain elements allows large group the opportunity to focus on what they can do best. Here are a few elements that can easily be done in small groups:
Rules: Behavior issues plague every church. Kids often need to be reminded of behavior expectations and the consequences of misbehavior. For the longest time, going over the rules was a part of the weekly large group experience. How rules were done varied by church. Some churches would only have one rule. Some would have three. Occasionally, I’d find a church that had 10. Don’t have ten, it’s not a good idea. Most ministries would have fun with the rules. They’d make it a game or they’d invite kids to tell what the rules were. For fun, we’d insert a silly rule that always got a laugh. Here’s the thing to consider. Whether a church does this segment amazingly well or struggles to get through it every week, doing the rules from the stage feels like a waste. I’d imagine that most churches will spend somewhere between 3-4 minutes doing the rule. It doesn’t seem like much, but that’s enough time for a game. That’s enough time for another song. There are a lot of really great things you can do in that amount of time. That’s probably 10% of your large group experience dedicated to doing the same exact thing week after week. The solution: push the rules to the group experience. Chances are that most groups don’t need a weekly reminder of the rules. Putting it in a relational context might be better anyway, giving kids the opportunity to ask questions.
Birthdays: A regular component of the large group experience is to celebrate birthdays. If you have more than 20-30 kids, someone is going to have a birthday most weeks. Celebrating birthdays are a big deal. Most kids (except for your extreme introverts) love to be recognized for their birthday. They love the attention and the birthday prize. However, the same problem comes up again. Time. After you figure out who is having a birthday, bringing them to the front, playing a quick game or singing a song, you’re up to 2-3 minutes again. Although it’s really fun for a kid on their birthday for the recognition, it doesn’t add much of anything to the overall experience. This is something that can be completely pushed to the small group. We can even empower our groups to make it an extra special experience. What if the small group leader gives the birthday kid a button to wear all day? What if the group takes 3-5 minutes to all say ways they’re thankful for the birthday kid? A small group can easily take the time to celebrate a birthday because it adds to the relational nature of a small group. Kids get to know each other better and the 3-5 minutes dedicated to the exercise only impacts one group, the kids who would care most about celebrating this birthday.
Offering: Teaching about and taking the offering is a big deal. Being generous doesn’t always come naturally and if a kid learns and applies principles of generosity, they’re far more likely to be generous when they’re an adult. There have been children’s ministry curriculum that included a weekly giving sermon. Every week was an opportunity to talk to kids about giving and giving them an opportunity to give. I’m not saying that this isn’t important, but doing the offering every week creates two issues. It takes time. Instilling generosity is a worthwhile pursuit, but I’m not 100% sure it should demand 2-4 minutes of large group every week. Taking the offering is also an awkward experience (not just for kids). I don’t know about your church, but we’re lucky to collect a couple of bucks every week. Most kids don’t have an offering. Most kids aren’t getting money on a weekly basis. Taking up the offering gives a handful of kids an opportunity to give while everyone else sits and watches. You can take up the offering during a song, but with kids being so easily distracted, the extra activity often leads to kids talking and acting out. Offering is something that can be pushed to the small group as well. Small Group leaders can talk about the importance of giving as often as necessary. Small Group leaders can also plan to give every week so that their kids see what giving looks like.
Decisions: “With every head bowed and no one looking around.” Raise your hand if those words have come out of your mouth? Giving an invitation was a regular part of the large group experience. It’s what my church did, so it only made sense that we’d do it in children’s church as well. It’s the way lots of people came to know Jesus. I’m probably biased and you’re perfectly welcome to disagree with me. I just don’t like altar calls. I have some summer camps invite me to speak and get frustrated that I don’t give an “invitation.” I just think that some things are best done within the context of a small group relationship. Sure, I can say a prayer with 20 kids at the front of the room, but isn’t it better if I let 10-12 small group leaders who know these kids better than I do have the opportunity to pray with them? I think it is. I think it’s even better when the large group experience sets the small group leader up with the opportunity to invite kids to make a decision in their group. I promise you this. Give your small group leaders experiences like this, and they’ll LOVE what they get to do and they’ll do it far longer if Large Group takes all the “serious” spiritual stuff.
Prayer: Many large group experiences might dedicate a portion of their time to prayer. They might invite a kid to the front of the stage to pray. They might invite kids to share prayer requests. These are all great things, but not actually necessary to be included in the Large Group. Open with a prayer or dismiss with a prayer, but let the small group take the time they need in prayer. Many kids have never prayed out loud with other people. It’s not something they do much in the home. Taking time in small group dedicated to prayer helps kids develop and experience this critical piece of spiritual development. Taking time to pray for specific requests and celebrating answered prayer is so important. This fits better in the relational part of the experience.
It’s a new day. Methods change and sometimes for the better. This is one of the times that change is better. Leverage the relationships in your ministry to do what is done best relationally and let large group have a chance to thrive in a focused 20-25 minute experience.
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