One of the most basic, yet overlooked features of preteen small groups is size. Have you ever considered how the size of your small groups might be affecting the experience had by preteens or leaders?
Too many preteens in a group can lead to a burnout for the leader. Leaders will feel discouraged about their inability to control the group, even though not even the Avengers could tame a crowd that large. Larger groups also limit the interaction and discussion opportunities for preteens. Preteens need space to think and pose questions, which is difficult to do with 18 brains and mouths!
Too few preteens in a group can lead to boredom and awkwardness. I can remember showing up for Sunday School one day in Jr. High and I was the only one! Despite the attendance, the teacher proceeded with class like normal. I don’t remember the lesson but I definitely remember the awkward experience.
Still, if you read any books on small groups or community, you will not likely find a golden number for small group size. That’s because every church and every ministry are different and they demand a unique small group strategy. There just isn’t a one-size-fits-all small group!
This doesn’t mean you can just throw some preteens together to form any size group and hope it works. It means you need to think even harder about the size of your small groups and how they affect the growth of preteens.
Here are some things you need to consider about the size of your preteen small group:
Leaders have Limitations
In the book The Greenhouse Project, Ric Garland comments that discipleship is most effective when the leader is given 5-6 group members. Maybe your leaders can go a little larger than that, or maybe they need to go smaller. You must know your leaders well enough to know what they can handle.
We have some amazing leaders (I mean really amazing…like better at my job than I am…but don’t tell my boss!) Even still, we’ve found that our groups are too large. We have had Sundays where up to 15 kids show up for a small group! Even the best leader loses control at that point. We’ve found that our leaders are most successful and most satisfied when their group has an average of 7-8 preteens. So, for this coming year, we are recruiting enough small group leaders to match this number.
You Must Keep a Critical Mass
The temptation you might have with small groups is to continually reduce the size in hopes of making them more effective. The problem with this is the idea of critical mass.
This idea comes from the world of physics. In physics, a “critical mass” the amount of material that must be present before a chain reaction can sustain itself.
In this case, you must have enough preteens to keep the group healthy and alive! We have tracked our attendance for the last two years and found that around 73% attend Children’s Ministry services regularly (>3x month). Knowing that ¼ of our kids may be absent on a given Sunday; we plan to place 10 preteens per small group so that our average attendance will be 7-8.
If we were to create a small group of 3-4 preteens, it would likely end up in that same awkward Jr. High experienced I had!
Focus on Growth
The most important factor to remember when sizing your small groups is growth. Make sure that your group size allows for new preteens to join. When the group reaches a large enough point (2x your critical mass), then it’s time to birth a new group.
This split can be difficult, so plan for the original group to reconnect on certain events or plan a joint fellowship time for the two new groups. This makes sure that the preteens keep the relationships they had previously formed, while also creating the best small group environment for future relationships.
Share Your Thoughts
I’d love to hear from you about how you create you preteen small groups. Leave a comment to answer these questions:
What size are your small groups?
What made you choose that size?
What are the advantages/disadvantages of a group that size?