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?

urlBefore I jump into the how of preteen small groups, I want to make an argument for why I think small groups are important in preteen ministry. In our ministry, we’ve had some outstanding events and we’ve taught some awesome series, but nothing compares to the life-on-life impact we’ve seen through preteen small groups.

In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,

“Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”

I understand that discipleship can occur in many different settings, but I personally believe small groups are the best method for preteens.
Here some reasons I feel so passionate about preteen small groups:

  • Small groups fulfill a specific social need found in preteens
  • A small group of peers and a loving leader is the perfect place for new preteens to plug-in to your ministry
  • Small Groups create a sense of intimacy and safety for preteens
  • Small groups give preteens an opportunity to discuss their thoughts and questions
  • Small groups create accountability in the lives of preteens
  • Life-change happens in the context of community
  • Small groups help preteens understand and apply Jesus’ command to “make disciples”

For even more reasons, check out “Why Do Preteen Small Groups?” by my friend Nick Diliberto.

Everyone, especially preteens, needs community to grow. John Ortberg wrote about the power of Christian community. He said:

“God uses people to form people. That is why what happens between you and another person is never merely a human-to-human interaction — the Spirit longs to be powerfully at work in every encounter. Referring to this dynamic, some writers of Scripture speak of “the fellowship of the Spirit.” Fellowship has become a church word that suggests basements and red punch and awkward conversation. But it is really a word for the flow of rivers of living water between one person and another, and we cannot live without it.” (The Me I Want To Be)

Hopefully, you feel just as passionate as I do about small groups for preteens. The next few posts will cover some of the keys to preteen small groups—size, space, leaders, and more.

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At the 2012 Preteen Leaders Conference, we were given some specific topics and asked to share some ideas from our ministry. The ideas were posted on the wall with notecards for everyone else to read and gain from. It really was a great idea and you can check out what was posted over at FourFiveSix.

One of the things that struck me from the notecards was the number of comments in certain areas. For instance, there were 28 ideas posted for Games in preteen ministry. There were 22 ideas posted about Teaching/Curriculum for preteen ministry. But there were only 4 ideas posted for small groups and 3 for volunteers.

    They were great ideas, but why so few?

I think it’s because both of these areas are tricky. I know everyone struggles with volunteers from time to time. Even if you can recruit enough help, you probably still struggle with training and retaining those volunteers.

Small groups are no walk in the park either. There are many dynamics that must be considered so that your preteen small groups can be successful. You have to think about group size, meeting space, purpose of the group, curriculum for the group, leaders for the group, and on and on and on.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be posting some ideas and strategies that you might be able to use in developing preteen small groups. I’ve done some research and pulled from personal experience, and I’ve already learned so much that will help our ministry. There are some great churches doing really cool things in preteen ministry, and I can’t wait to share that info with you!

If you haven’t done so, be sure you subscribe to the blog so that you can stay up to date with this series of posts.

A while back, I learned about a very cool website from Jim Kast-Keat. Jim is extremely creative, and he is always introducing new methods for educating and inspiring others.

The site Jim taught me about was Xtranormal. The site allows you to create your own script and bring it to life in a movie. It takes a little practice to get the hang of the controls, but once you do it’s amazing!

I was first using the site just to make funny videos for my daughter, and then I had an idea. We were getting ready to revamp our entire preteen ministry. New identity, new physical space, new curriculum…everything new!

There was a lot of “info” to cover, but we first wanted to just start a buzz among our leaders about the exciting changes. So, I decided to create a short video that would announce the news to our leaders. Enjoy the video!