I’m not being a Negative Nelly. I’m sharing the difficulties that come with these models. Yesterday I shared the difficulty with the Sunday School model. It has big enough difficulties that I’d prefer not to be at a church with Sunday School. However, the small group difficulties I’ve faced can be overcome with a little creativity.
I’ve had great success with small groups on Sunday nights or Wednesday nights. They were discipleship/growth focused. The kids were pretty consistent and all my groups had 8-12 kids. However, once I decided to launch small groups during Sunday services at Gateway, I knew I would have a problem. Kid’s attendance on Sunday is not consistent. I would be creating a small group model around irregular attendance. In addition, every week we have visitors who may or may not come back. I knew that it would only be a matter of time before my small group leaders had 50 kids on their rosters even though they only averaged 10-12 kids in attendance each week.
I’ve seen some churches tackle this in various ways.
The Holding Tank
Some create specific groups with kids assigned to the group each week. New kids get grouped in a special “holding tank.” After kids have attended the “holding tank” three times, they promote to a regular small group. What I’ve noticed many times in this situation is that the holding tank got HUGE and the small groups stayed small. It seemed awkward as many of the groups would have 4-8 kids and the holding tank would have 20-30 with only 1 or two leaders. The experience the new or irregular kids got was different from what the other kids got.
I’ve also seen some churches try to solve this problem by taking a more laissez-faire approach by changing the groups each week to ensure that no group got to big. This certainly keeps the size thing under control, but even some of the irregular kids might have a different leader each week. It’s not a bad strategy… better than the holding tank in my opinion.
I’m not going to take credit for it. A consultant at Fellowship One connected me with a church in Oregon that is doing this and it seemed to make the most sense to me. We divide our groups into gender/grade groups. First Grade boys are in their own group as are Third Grade girls. In some services, we might have two Second Grade boys groups because there are so many. Even a first time visitor will attend the same group they would attend if they came every week. We’ll do the best we can to make sure the leader doesn’t have more than 12 kids in his/her group, but there will likely be a mix of new, regularaly attending and irregularaly attending kids in each group. The difference is that the small group leader knows who his/her “actual” small group is. Of all the kids who attend this group, we run a report to show us which kids attend on average three out of 8 weeks. Our small group leaders know who these kids are. During the week (outside of class) these small group leaders will call or send notes to their kids. They’ll build the relationship outside of Sunday. Naturally, they’ll have a greater connection wtih these kids on Sunday, but every part of the small group on Sunday will have a similar experience. The commitment we make to parents is that if they will commit to regular attendance, they’re kids will be part of this small group (meaning the small group leader will reach out to them during the week). So, the Second Grade boys roster may have 50 kids on it, but the small group leader is only focused on 10 of them.
- What about these irregular attending and new kids? The Children’s Ministry will provide follow-up for them, not the small group leaders. We can easily run the reports and send a postcard to a child on their first and second visit or even send them a card when they stop attending. Again, this can be handled administratively and we’ll empower our small group leaders to focus on the kids who are committed to the small group.
- Sound like an administrative nightmare? I don’t think it has to be. If you use a system that can run reports, just figure out what reports to run. We use Fellowship One and we have a unique way to do this that takes all the difficulty out of it. We have it set up so that regularly attending kids always check into one “room” and the new and irregularly attending kids check into another “room,” but the kids don’t see the difference. The system does it for us, so we don’t have to think about it. It’s automatic. I love automated systems. With this tool, my small group leaders can even log into Fellowship One, check their kids attendance on their own and access all their contact data. This way my small group leaders can have total ownership and they don’t have to wait on me for a report or information. I love it!
I know I haven’t seen everything. What are you doing? Tell me how it’s working or isn’t working. Although I’m happy with what we’ve figured out here at Gateway, it still has it flaws. Maybe you’re doing something that will help us do this better. I look forward to your comments!
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