Go Small, Grow Big

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Unusual Suspect

Imagine a children’s ministry where children beg to come. Where
kids never want to miss a thing. Where no volunteer ever complains.
Where children’s lives are changed and their faith grows. Where you
breathe a sigh of relief every Sunday because you know — without a
doubt — that everything is going well.

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Does such a place exist? Is it just one of vivid
imagination?

It’s definitely a reality! It’s the large group/small group
model of children’s ministry — where kids experience the Bible in
a large group setting and then immediately gather in small groups
to connect and apply truth to their lives.

The energy created by a large group environment brings
excitement to kids’ teaching time and worship — like no classroom
can. And small group time creates a sense of community for kids
whose spiritual growth depends on caring people who build
relationships with them.

The large group/small group movement is alive and well in
children’s ministry, because more and more churches are embracing
this alternative to the traditional Sunday school classroom
setting. Nearly 20 percent of churches currently use a large
group/small group format in their children’s ministry, according to
research conducted by Group Publishing, Inc. And another 34 percent
of those surveyed plan to switch to this format within the next 12
months.

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The large group/small group model has strong advantages over
other chil dren’s ministry models, and that’s why it’s captured
children’s ministers’ attention.

“One of the biggest advantages is that it gives kids a dynamic
one-two punch from their church experience,” says Aaron Reynolds, a
children’s ministry consultant. “Exciting, creative teaching in a
format that speaks directly to kids in relevant ways (that’s large
group), and a chance to process what they learned in a
relationship-filled context of community, with a leader they know
and other kids they trust (that’s small group).”

These two vastly different but complementary experiences give
kids a compelling learning environment and help them grow in their
faith. Read on to learn how.

Think Big

The large group gives children’s ministry leaders something you
long for — the assurance that what kids are learning each Sunday
is exactly what you’d hoped and planned for. This model provides
incomparable consistency and opportunities for high-quality
experiences that demand kids’ attention.

Consistency — The large group time assures
that all kids receive the same consistent message — which doesn’t
always happen in a classroom setting. In fact, no matter what
curriculum is used in a traditional Sunday school setting, you as
the director really have no clue about the consistency of the
message, the Bible fluency of the teacher, or the actual takeaway
for the kids. You can’t guarantee that teachers aren’t explaining
to kids the power of the Native American God’s Eye weaving (that’s
actually happened in a classroom). But you can hold one large-group
leader accountable for consistent quality week to week because
you’re able to attend and monitor one teaching time.

Creativity — Kids today are submerged in a
fast-paced culture that’s inundated with technology. And kids
respond to creativity and variety; they want media, action, change,
silence, drama, attention-grabbing object lessons — and they want
it all now!

By having one large group lesson, you and your team can laser
focus your gifts, experiences, and abilities to create the most
phenomenal lesson possible each week. That’s frankly not very
possible in a traditional Sunday school setting.

In large group, creative teaching is done in a big way that
brings the Bible to life for kids. There’s wonder. There’s
surprise. There’s something new and amazingly big each week that
keeps kids coming back.

Think Small

The small group setting gives kids what they long for –
community and connection.

Community — The small group environment with
one leader and no more than five children gives kids a safe place
to share what they’ve learned, to grow in their relationship with
God and others, and to give and receive love. In the same way the
large group experience appeals to kids’ culture, the small group
experience fills a sense of belonging that’s often a void for kids
today.

“Kids are so used to being just another face in the class that
to have someone who really cares about them and spends time with
them each week in small group is life-changing!” says Becki Manni,
senior editor for Living Inside Out large group/small group
curriculum (Group Publishing, Inc.). Small groups give kids a safe
and comfortable group of people with whom they can process the
Bible story, share personal joys and struggles, and form
friendships.

Connections — Even with the most compelling
and creative lessons, truth can take a detour between kids’ ears
and kids’ hearts. Kids aren’t always sure what they’re supposed to
do with what they’ve heard — so actual learning or life-change
doesn’t occur. Being in relationship with a caring leader and
friends helps children connect what they’ve learned to their lives
in a real and relevant way. In small group, leaders walk kids
through the “So what?” and “What now?” questions and processing
experiences that help kids see how God’s Word applies to their
lives today.

The combination of these two dynamics is what makes the large
group/small group model so effective in reaching kids today. And
those who use this model report that kids are dragging their
parents to church because they don’t want to miss a week — that’s
exciting!

Think “Can-Do”

One of the biggest struggles for children’s ministry leaders is
recruiting and retaining volunteers. Why is that? Typically, Sunday
school teachers are asked to do it all — lesson preparation,
dynamic storytelling, leading worship, preparing and making crafts,
serving snacks, discipline, prayer, relationship-building, and
more. That’s a difficult task for anyone because no one is gifted
in every area. In a traditional classroom, what ultimately suffers
isn’t the program; it’s the kids.

With the large group/small group model, though, finding and
keeping volunteers is much easier. Here’s why.

One for All — In a large group, you need only
one amazingly creative, articulate, and gifted teacher who knows
exactly how to turn a phrase. You need only one person who can make
a gesture that has kids sitting on the edge of their seats as they
hear the biblical account of God’s power. You need only one teacher
who can court an audience’s rapt attention for any Bible lesson.
You need only one teacher who’s in touch with the world kids live
in and puts the message into terms they can understand and hold on
to.

How many of those people do you have in your church? Again, all
you need is one for large group teaching.


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Where kids practice their faith and it 24/7!

All for One — In small groups, leaders find
greater satisfaction in serving because they’re not stressed by
planning and preparation. So they can devote more time to the kids
they’re serving. Can you imagine it? Small group leaders plan
nothing! They’re required to love and pray for kids. It’s that
easy!

Room for All — “The design allows volunteers
to do what they’re good at and not have to be burdened with lots of
little details they’re not good at,” says Living Inside Out’s
Manni. “This leads to greater fulfillment for volunteers, which in
turn leads to longevity and less stress recruiting. People serve
from their gifts, not their guilt.”

Basically, every volunteer is either a clown or a Santa. A clown
makes a great large group leader (loves to entertain, wants to be
up front, is willing to try new things, wants to have a big
impact), while a Santa makes a great small group leader (loves to
give to children, likes to listen to them, goes the extra mile to
help them, wants kids to feel nurtured).

This model also opens doors for new people to serve in
children’s ministry. In the traditional Sunday school format,
volunteer opportunities are primarily for teachers and assistants;
additional areas to serve in children’s ministry tend to be
limited. The large group/small group model allows for people with
other talents, such as music, drama, or hospitality, to serve in
children’s ministry. People serving in an area that’s a good fit
for them creates happy and content volunteers who are more likely
to stick with their commitment and recruit others to get
involved.

Think Change

Change is never easy, but there are ways to make it a positive
and rewarding experience for your volunteers and children. Use
these guidelines to successfully move from a traditional Sunday
school model to the large group/small group model.

Cast vision. Give your volunteers a clear picture of what the
new program will look like and why you’re making the transition.
Show your volunteers videos of successful large group/small group
programs. Provide opportunities for volunteers to see the new
curriculum. Hold meetings where you talk about the benefits to your
volunteers and give them time to ask questions. Talk about the
impact the new format will have on kids’ spiritual growth and how
it’ll change the way they view church.

Reynolds says, “Lead ers have to paint a picture of the result,
the ministry they’re trying to build — kids enraptured and in awe
of Bible stories, kids living life differently on Monday as a
result of what they experienced on Sunday.”

Prepare your kids for the change, too. Talk about the new
program often, share previews, and let them ask questions.

Transition slowly. Don’t rush to do everything at once. Set a
target date to complete the transition, but begin introducing
elements right away. Pray for support, resources, and people to
propel the transition. Stay in constant communication with your
volunteers and other leaders. Be open to questions and issues.
Speak positively about the program and “sell” its benefits. Follow
through quickly when problems arise, and provide adequate resources
and supplies to make the change successful.

To begin making small changes, introduce a large group teaching
time that’s creative and energetic one weekend per month. Focus on
something that gets the kids excited about what’s ahead. Follow by
introducing worship in your classes with music that’ll connect to
the future large group time.

Ask volunteers about the role they’d like in the new model. Give
spiritual gift assessments and counsel volunteers who are unsure of
how’ll they’ll fit into the new model. Begin recruiting for large
group and small group leaders, as well as drama, worship, and
technology team members.

Celebrate! Make your first full day of large group/small group
programming a celebration. Don’t expect everything to go perfectly
– your goal is for kids to experience the excitement of God’s
timeless truth and for volunteers to connect with the children in
their small groups.

Afterward, touch base with everyone. Find out what worked and
what didn’t. Make adjustments to weak areas. Remember, you don’t
have to do it all at once. Polish the resources you have until they
shine.

Expect transformation. Smiles. Laughter. Hugs. Volunteers come
early; they stay late. Something’s changed. Kids are excited about
church. They rush to tell you about how they applied a lesson to
their lives during the week.

“On Wednesday, I ate lunch with a kid who gets picked on a lot.
He’s pretty cool!” The good Samaritan is brought to life for
Aaron.

“This is my friend, Elise. She’s never been to church before, so
I invited her to come with me this week.” Kelly accepts the
challenge to share her faith with a friend.

“Travis’ mom called me. He’s never wanted to come to Sunday
school before, but a small group leader named Ryan really made an
impression on him. Travis is actually excited to go to church!” A
children’s director shares a transformation story with the
volunteer who’s making a difference.

Large. Small. On their own, both words can cause concern in
children’s ministry. But together they transform into something
wonderful — kids’ hearts being changed by God.

Unusual Suspects

Here’s what we’ve learned about recruiting that can help you
find people you may’ve never thought of before — to serve behind
the scenes. Keep your eyes open for people’s hidden gifts and
interests by what they say and do.

  • Camera-Toting Dad — You know that father who
    always has his camera or camcorder out for kids’ programs? He’d
    make a great photographer for your publicity items, bulletin
    boards, and PowerPoint presentations.
  • Computer Whiz — Ever had a mom complain about
    her teenage boy spending too much time with his multimedia toys?
    He’d make a great techie for you.
  • Divine Designers — The women who love to
    decorate their homes would make a great team to spruce up your
    large group area with signs, banners, props, and more.
  • Happy Hals — You know these folks. They
    always have a smile and are eager to shake your hand. They’re your
    next greeters, of course!
  • Filers, Not Pilers — It’s the people who love
    to shop, organize, and get together with like-minded people who’ll
    make a great behind-the-scenes supply-gathering team for your
    program.

When people serve in an area of interest that energizes and
fulfills them, they’re much more likely to sign on for the
adventure. We’ve heard it again and again from directors
everywhere: “This program brought out people’s talents in wonderful
new ways! People who never imagined that they could work with kids
had a great time — and are willing to sign up for all year.”

So go for it! Look beyond “the usual suspects” of volunteers,
and bring in some new faces. You’ll find that as you begin asking
people to fill smaller, more specific roles, folks will come out of
the woodwork. You may find you have to rotate tasks or put
volunteers on waiting lists.

Sound like a dream come true? It’s the reality of the large
group/small group model.

Carmen Kamrath is associate editor for Children’s Ministry
Magazine. Adapted from Group’s Living Inside Out large group/small
group director’s guide.
Please keep in mind that phone
numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.


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