If you are not already using weekly volunteers in preschool, I hope my last post convinced you to make it your top priority. Today, I want to show you how we do small groups in preschool. Yes, it’s different from elementary school or student ministry, but it actually works for preschoolers, toddlers, and babies. There are many different ways to approach forming small groups in your preschool environments at church and degrees to which you can logistically make this happen. At my church, we have opted to “major” on the relational connection with leaders and “minor” on the logistical connection created by our database. I like people a lot more than databases. Here are five things we do to create groups in preschool:

Set Up a System of Weekly Small Group Leaders

This is the hardest but the most important step. This is also the step that provides the most impact. I wrote about this extensively in my post “Why Weekly Volunteers in Preschool Matter.” Having weekly small group leaders create consistent and recognizable faces that both parents and kids love. Families attend church less and less frequently. Having weekly small group leaders communicate consistency and help parents see consistency as something worth pursuing.

Same Kids/Same Hour/Same Room

I would like to assume that most people do this, but I know it is not always true. When we juggle volunteers from week to week, rooms close and kids get shuffled around. No more. Once you move to small groups, you have to fight for this value of keeping the same kids in the same room for every service. When you think about small groups in preschool, you have to start by thinking in the context of classrooms. Classrooms of no more than 16-18 kids. Within that classroom, there is the potential for about 3 smaller groups of 5-6 kids led by a team of  4-6 small group leaders. That’s a lot of numbers to think about. How about this? Each classroom needs to have 2-3 circles of preschoolers with two leaders at each circle.

I know people that assign every kid and leader to a specific circle in their church database. Although this does work, just know that preschool groups can be messy. Make room for the organic and fluid nature of preschool groups.  The demographic of leaders is super important (I could write another post on this topic alone). Mix up your leaders at each circle. Include adult and teenager volunteers at every circle when possible. This is the healthiest approach to preschool group leadership as it creates intergenerational relational connections that last.

Call Your Volunteers “Small Group Leaders”

This is easy! You can start doing this today! People will look at you with a puzzled look on their face at first but just say it with confidence and resolve.

Stop using these terms right now:

Nursery volunteers
Preschool workers

Every volunteer is a small group leader, even volunteers in your baby room.

Create a Small Group Time

This looks drastically different with each age group.

Babies: Our babies actually look like a small group. We actually sit them in a circle with their small group leaders. They sing, rock, dance and read stories during small group time.

Toddlers and Twos: This area looks a little more chaotic. Toddlers and twos are NOT sitting in a circle discussing life. HOWEVER, they are connecting with a consistent leader who tells them a story about God and His people. This leader feeds them a snack and engages them with meaningful activities that spark their creativity.

Threes and PreK: This age group actually CAN sit in circles during small group time. Depending on the curriculum you use and your schedule, you can set up centers every week. Crafts, snacks, and stories can be done in small groups. My favorite moment every Sunday morning is the time directly following Large Group. After our threes and preK travel back to their small group rooms (aka classrooms), they circle up around tables with 1-2 leaders and eat Cheerios (VITALLY important!). While they eat, their small group leader reads the story from Large Group out of the bible. Leaders ask basic questions and write down their answers in a group journal. Lastly, they practice the monthly memory verse. Small group at this age is so precious and beautiful to watch.

Celebrate It

Somewhere in the cadence of your ministry, you need to create space for training, meetings, and team times. For our teams, we have a once a month “All Volunteer Meeting” where our small group leaders, coaches, host team, and large group team all come together. This is a TEN-minute meeting before they serve. We like to focus on inspiration, not information. We tell stories and go back to why consistency and relationships really matter. We show pictures from Instagram from parents, or ones we have caught in the hallway. Sometimes we ask parents to come in and share a story of their child connecting with a leader and taking steps towards Jesus. On the other weeks of the month, our small group leaders meet with their coach and other leaders and pray for their kids, share best practices and even share how they can pray for each other.

It takes hard work, but the payoff for creating community for the youngest attendees at your church is worth it. We can work together to help make intentional community normal by starting in our preschool environments. Over the course of years, we can watch God work through his people to develop trust in Him, a foundation of faith and powerful community of believers. Our job is to help our children grow to be lights in the darkness and small groups greatly enable this to become a reality.