I was a teenager in the 90’s when Clueless was a blockbuster, the macarana was the rage and Michael Jordan was king. But as awesome as the 90’s were, there was a different type of church culture. Teenagers weren’t seen was valuable assets to the church. Serving in the church was only available for after high school or reserved for the youth choir mission trip.

So after I graduated high school, I was finally given my first small group. I was given the task of leading a group of middle school girls. And here’s what I’ve learned: if you can be dropped into the middle of a group of 12 year old girls and survive, then you can do just about anything. That is basic training at it’s best. Our small group time felt more like wrangling wild beasts than curating the finest, most significant dialog. We talked more about jewelry, homecoming and the lack of dating life they had. But there was something amazing about that time together. To this day, it is still one of my favorite groups.

Small Group Leader Conversations

And since that first group of middle school girls, I’ve lead many small groups along the way. I have had great groups and strange groups. I’ve had the popular crowd and the awkward crowd. I’ve had the spiritual kids and the ones who didn’t seem to care about anything spiritual. There have been times where I left like a loser with my small group. It’s easy to be tempted to judge your success as a small group leader based on your group’s attendance, spiritual growth, and moral choices. And if those were the criteria of success, then no pastor would or should give me the opportunity to lead again. 

But thankfully, those things don’t measure success as a small group. Maybe we’ve been defining the win in the wrong ways. When it comes to winning as a small group leader, we need to look at what isn’t winning.

  • Winning isn’t every kid experiencing major spiritual growth.

Every kid that sits in a circle with you will come to spiritual things from a different place. And spiritual growth is measured in different ways. Just because one student reads her bible everyday doesn’t make her more spiritual than another. Your job as their leader is to encourage them to pursue a relationship with God—one that is real and authentic. It’s okay if every kid isn’t a 9 on the spiritual growth ricketier scale. Rather than defining the win as giant spiritual leaps of faith, maybe the win is small steps forward. Spiritual growth isn’t about giant leaps, it’s about small steps. Notice when a student in your group prays out loud for the first time or speaks up finally during discussion. Notice when someone makes a wise choice. Celebrate those small steps of faith. That’s a win.

  • Winning isn’t having in depth conversations about theology.

Just because I may be interested in theology doesn’t mean the 12-year-old girl in my group will be, too. We can keep our big words like predestination and Arminianism and the 5 points of Calvinism to ourselves. Most kids want to talk about their lives—their family, friends, school, hobbies. As you talk about things that don’t seem to matter, you set the stage to talk about things that do matter. Rather than defining the win as having theological discussions, maybe the win is simply creating dialog. It’s still a win if you spend 75% of your time together talking about homecoming. They will be more likely to hear what you have to say about spiritual things for the final 25% of time together because you took the time to be interested in their personal lives.

  • Winning isn’t about numbers.

It is so easy to get caught up in numbers. But numbers aren’t everything. Just because you have four consistent kids showing up each week doesn’t mean you are failing. You are winning with those four because they continue to show up. Maybe the win is that they continue to show up. Now days, you can’t expect kids to attend church every week because of divorced families or activities. Remember that showing up is a win no matter how little or often it happens. You win when they trust that you will be there.

You are winning because you stepped out and said yes to be the leader of a small group. Don’t be discouraged when your group looks a little bit different than you imagined. 

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9 NIV

What you do now is making a difference for who they will be years later. Don’t give up. Redefine the win. There will be a harvest and what you did in the early years when the soil was new, will not go unnoticed. 

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