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. I fall into that 20 percent as well. For our midweek ministry, we separated the kids by age groups. Later, I would have them come back together for a large-group activity.
One of the classroom formats in Dig In, combines the energy of large-group time with the effectiveness of small-group interaction. (The other formats are age-graded and one-room.)
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I wanted to introduce you to one of the editors for Dig In, Jessica Sausto. Besides being a fellow Groupie, she is also a good friend with a heart for children. I thought it would be interesting to hear from her about how she started working on the curriculum, and why she thinks that the large group/small group format is a great way to go.
David: How did you end up working at Group?
Jessica: It’s interesting how my past experiences have led me to my editing job at Group Publishing–I kind of have a little bit of everything needed for the job. And when I applied at Group, as I looked back over my experiences, it occurred to me that it’s all been a part of the path God’s had me on. I volunteered a lot in children’s and youth ministry in high school and college, and got a minor in Biblical Studies in college, even though I didn’t plan to do much with it–I was really just interested in learning about the Bible for my own spiritual growth. After college, I was a Behavioral Therapist for autistic kids–which I absolutely loved-and I also did a lot of academic tutoring. That was only for about 8 months, though.
David: After that you went to Japan, right?
Jessica: Yes, I was an Assistant Language Teacher for the JET Programme. That experience opened my eyes to new things and teaching methods I’d never known about, and it allowed me the opportunity to travel around Asia-I was even able to go to Thailand to help with some curriculum development at an orphanage there, and to create my own summer English club for Japanese kids.
David: You ended up coming back to the U.S. and started teaching here…
Jessica: I missed my family, so I moved back to the St. Louis area and taught 5th grade as a classroom teacher for 3 years. I still miss my kids and all the fun learning we did. But I kept getting the sense that I wanted to settle back in Colorado–so I finished my 3rd year of teaching and moved to Colorado at the beginning of the summer of 2008, hoping I’d get a job before my teacher salary ran out. I applied for teaching jobs, but out of the blue, an editing job at an educational publishing house just kind of fell into my lap.
I’d started getting my Masters in creative writing in St. Louis before I’d moved to Colorado, and I’d written for the yearbook and newspaper in high school and some in college…but who knew those experiences, coupled with my different teaching and tutoring experiences, were preparing me for something that combined those skills? At the educational publishing house, I edited and helped revise content in textbooks for struggling students. I also got to do a lot with Smartboards, which made me happy because I’d loved teaching with my Smartboard as a 5th grade teacher. I learned so much there about the editing process and publishing companies.
David: And the next step led to Group…
Jessica: After 3 ½ years in a bad economy, I was laid off. It came out of nowhere. In my mind, that job had been exactly what I wanted to do, and there wasn’t much out there like it–especially in Colorado. As a single girl with a house payment, I didn’t know what I was going to do. But the day I was laid off, two unrelated good friends sent me information about the Associate Editor position at Group. As soon as I saw the posting, I thought, “That is exactly what I want to do!” I applied, with the confidence that all my past experience would make me a perfect fit for the job, even though I knew job openings at Group were highly competitive.
I was hired by the time my severance from the layoff ran out. It was perfect timing. And six months into my employment here, I still feel more blessed than I can explain in words. It’s an amazing job–more than I could’ve imagined when I was in college training to be a teacher, when I was learning out-side-the-box as a teacher in Japan, and when I was content at my job at the educational publishing house.
David: You are an editor on Dig In. What about that curriculum makes it unique?
Jessica: Dig In is an awesome curriculum that brings kids of all ages together, yet meets all kids on their level. It’s unique because it engages kids–it engages their minds and emotions. It gets them moving and experiencing the truths of God. In Dig In, kids learn Bible lessons in interactive ways. The relational and interactive aspects help kids tie what they learned in the Bible that week to an experience that they’ll remember and be able to apply in the future.
David: Why do you think the large group/small group format is so effective? What are some of the benefits of each?
Jessica: The large group/small group format builds community among a larger group and relationship among the smaller group. In the large group, kids aren’t completely isolated in their age groups. They get to interact with kids of many ages, like they would in their everyday lives. In small group, kids aren’t reviewing the information, but instead digging deeper into what the Scripture means to middle elementary and upper elementary kids. These groups usually consist of about 5 kids and one adult leader. Small group meets kids directly on their level and allows the kids to learn what the Scripture means to them right where they are. Then kids from the same family of different age levels can expand on the lesson at home because they’re all learning the same thing.
David: Any tips you can share or advice to give for leaders wanting to start the large group/small group format?
Jessica: Keep it R.E.A.L., no matter the size of your group. Kids learn, remember, and are able to apply when they learn in a relational, experiential, applicable, and learner-based way. Dig In applies R.E.A.L. in all of its lessons, as do the other Group curricula. How many times have you listened to a sermon that you took notes on and learned from, yet an hour after you walked out the door, you forgot what the pastor even said? We learn the most when lessons are R.E.A.L., so when you’re planning lessons, try to involve these aspects if you can. Large group/small group is a good way to keep things real because it incorporates kids of different ages to experience the lesson both as a community and as a smaller group at their age level.
I hope you enjoyed getting to know Jessica! She really has a heart for children and I know she works hard at making Dig In the best it can be.
If you are in the 80 percent of children’s ministry who are not using the large group/small group format, give it some consideration. It will help your kids build strong connections with others while keeping them a part of a connected community.
Do you use a large group/small group format? Leave a comment below telling us the pros and cons you have seen using this style of ministry!