Q & A — Expert on Large Group/Small Group Format

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Blog 10.10fixedNearly 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.

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One of Group’s Sunday school curriculums, Living
Inside Out
, combines the energy of large-group time with the
effectiveness of small-group interaction. They say it has a
large-group wow with small-group pow!

I wanted to introduce you to one of the editors for Living
Inside Out, 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?

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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:Tell us how you ended up being a Japanese
celebrity!

Jessica:(laughs) I’m definitely not a famous
Japanese celebrity. But I was the face of the Nanao city commercial
the year I was living there. They asked me to be in the commercial
not long after I’d been there-and I really didn’t understand any
Japanese at that point-they just told me the sounds to make to form
sentences. I’d also been on a game show-like TV program that had
aired that commercial nationwide. By the end of my year in Japan, I
could speak a little bit of Japanese and as I reviewed that
commercial, I was embarrassed to see how evident it was that I
couldn’t speak Japanese at all. And that commercial had been airing
all year in the area. I’m sure my students got a kick out of seeing
me butcher Japanese on TV-it probably made them more willing to
take a chance at speaking in English class when I was at their
schools.

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 the editor on Living Inside Out. What
about that line makes it unique?

Jessica:Living Inside Out 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 Living Inside Out, 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, all the kids encounter the
Scripture together. It could have anywhere from 20 kids to 300
kids. It’s great because kids aren’t completely isolated in their
age groups. They get to interact with kids of all 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 preschoolers, lower elementary school kids, and
upper elementary school kids. These groups usually consist of about
5 kids and one adult leader. Small group meets kids directly on
their level-a child in upper elementary school won’t necessarily
have the same application that a preschooler would have. Small
group 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. Living Inside Out applies R.E.A.L. in all of its lessons, as
do the other Group curriculums. 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.

David: Finally, one of funniest stories you have shared
with me was about a time you were chased by “zombies.” Please share
that again.

Jessica:Wow. In my dreams, or in real life?
Just kidding. I did the Run for Your Lives race this year in
Morrison, Colorado. Zombies chased runners like me, trying to grab
our flags like in flag football. One of my coworkers at Group was
actually a zombie that day. It was scary, even though I knew they
were just people dressed up like zombies. At the beginning of the
race, when I slipped and tore open my knee on gravel, one of the
zombies came and helped me up, inquiring if I was okay. Then
another zombie ran up and stole one of my flags. The moral of the
story: there are good zombies and bad zombies.

***

I hope you enjoyed getting to know Jessica! She really has a
heart for children and I know she works hard at making Living
Inside Out 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!

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About Author

David Jennings

David has served kids around the world for the majority of his life. From Texas to Romania, he has followed where God has led him. Most recently, he served for six years as a children's director in the great state of Alabama before moving to Colorado to work for Group as an associate editor.

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