Leading an effective small group

What is a small group?

You know the drill. A Sunday School session will have two or more leaders and a bundle of children. The bulk of the session is spent teaching the single main point, through games, through drama, through Bible time, through Bible story, through… any way you can! Then, the best way to finish a Sunday session is to split into the smallest groups, with each group having one leader. Ideally, week by week, each group would have the same children and the same leader; this allows for relationships to build, for discussions to be honest and for real discipling to happen.

The small group leader will aim to spend about 10 minutes asking good questions to see if the children can remember the events of the Bible story and understand what they mean for them.

Why bother having small groups?

Leading small group discussions at the end of a kid’s session is tricky! In my experience the combination of children who struggle to sit still and leaders who feel out of their depth makes attempting discussions feel like very hard work. Yet these ten minutes can be crucial in the growing faith of children. Ephesians 4:15 says that it’s as the whole church speaks the truth in love to one another that the whole church body matures. This means that a maturing church will be a speaking-to-one-another church. For this reason, when it works, the protected small group discussion time is the most effective slot in the session, because it is the key time to hear from individual children, and to speak truth in love into their lives.

Whilst this might be daunting for some leaders, you may find that they are already doing something very similar with the adults at church. Any time they’ve asked someone on Sunday ‘what did you make of the sermon?’ they’ve been practicing leading a small group discussion. It’s simply a chance to talk to one another about what God has been teaching us. The principle is the same with the children; we’re setting aside time for them to do most of the talking as we ask them what God has been teaching them. The good news is that any leader can do this!

How can we make our small groups better?

I encouraged leaders to make a simple plan based around three Rs: Recap; Reinforce; and Reflect.

1) Think of a question that will recap the content of the Bible story. This is a good chance to get them drawing/acting/looking at something – can they remember what happened?
2) Think of a question that will reinforce the main point of the Bible story. It would be a disaster if they knew the story but were confused what the point was. We’ve all despaired when we’ve heard a child tell their parents that they’ve learned something completely different to what we were trying to teach. A question reinforcing the main point is the chance to avoid this!
3) Think of a question that will allow the children to reflect on the application of the Bible story: That’s to say- how does this Bible story change the lives of the children? It seems that all of us find these application questions the trickiest. We don’t want to become moralistic teachers, who allow the children to leave the session thinking they just have to follow 2 more rules this week to please God- that leads to dead religion. Neither do we want the Good News of Jesus to have no effect on how the children live. Thankfully, it is the same gospel that brings both salvation and transformation in the lives of the children (Titus 2:11-14). The Good News of Jesus Christ shows us both how we should live differently and why we should live differently. Putting in the hard work in thinking why we should live differently from this passage is worth it!

Of course, this is not a secret formula that will stop children fidgeting or guarantee superhuman confidence in our leaders. That’s why we have to keep on praying that God will use these small group discussions to help the children and the whole church body grow to maturity.

By James Kight

If you would like to learn more about leading small group discussions, download James’ workshop talk on the topic from here.

You might also be interested in checking out some of our other training materials for Sunday School teachers.