Archives For small groups


It’s 9:00 pm Saturday night and Bill is frantically searching his email for the lesson that was emailed to him earlier in the week. When he finally finds it and prints it off, it’s 10:00 pm. He glances at it (not really to read it but just to make sure it all printed), and then shoves it in his Bible so he’ll have it when he leads his small group on Sunday morning.

Is this how your volunteers prepare to lead a small group? In the busyness of your life and theirs, how can you help them prepare to lead their small group well?

To help our small group leaders, I included a page in our training manual called “How to Prepare for Sunday Morning in 15 Minutes or Less.” The idea was to give them a practical way to be well prepared for Sunday by spending a little bit of time with the lesson each day. Here is what we included:

I adapted this schedule from an example found in Wholly Kids from Lifeway:Kids. This is an amazing resource on how kids learn, how to design engaging environments, and how to lead volunteers.

 HOW TO PREPARE FOR SUNDAY MORNING (in 15 minutes or less!)


  • Read the Fifty6 Team Email and print a copy of this week’s lesson
  • Read the Scripture passage for this week’s lesson from your Bible

Time: 5 minutes


  • Read the Scripture passage for this week’s lesson from your Bible
  • Read the Large Group teaching time

Time: 10-15 minutes


  • Read the Scripture passage for this week’s lesson from your Bible
  • Read the Small Group portion of the lesson—Think, Discuss, & React

Time: 15 minutes


  • Read the Scripture passage for this week’s lesson from your Bible
  • Write down your responses/answers to the Small Group discussion questions

Time: 15 minutes


  • Read the Scripture passage for this week’s lesson from your Bible
  • Pray for the students in your group by name

Time: 10 minutes


  • Read the Scripture passage for this week’s lesson from your Bible
  • Write down some fun or engaging questions to use during Huddle Time
  • Review the lesson and rest!

Time: 10 minutes

applyIn writing our curriculum for Fifty6, we really wanted to make every lesson connect with preteens and their daily lives. We wanted to draw lines between what the Bible says and how it can be put into practice. We want them to walk away from every lesson with an idea that will challenge them to live differently based on what they’ve learned from God’s Word.

Here’s how we’re encouraging preteens to apply the Bible to their lives:

1. Make space in the lesson for action steps

At the end of every small group session, we have a segment called React. We do a quick review of the lesson and ask preteens to consider how it will make a difference in their lives. We challenge them by asking this question, In light of all we learned, what will we do differently this week? Here is an example of the React portion of Small Group:

2. Give suggestions, but let preteens make decisions

We’ve decided that we will always provide some suggested action steps for preteens, but we ultimately want them to decide how they will apply the lesson to their lives. We don’t want to tell them how to react because we don’t want to limit the way Scripture is working in their life. We want them to make decisions and take this step in owning their faith.

3. Provide Accountability in the Small Group

Accountability is always important in life-change. To make sure that preteens have accountability, we ask small group leaders to follow-up each week on the previous week’s React segment. Preteens are free to share how they applied the Bible to their lives and what God is doing through that.

How do you help preteens apply the Bible to their life?


Last week, I started this series on preteen small groups. If you missed the first few posts, you can catch up “Why Preteen Small Groups Matter” and “What’s the Right Size for a Small Group?”. I don’t intend for this series to include everything you need to know about small groups, but hopefully there will be some thought-provoking ideas that help you in your ministry.

Another feature that affects small groups is meeting space. Big church or small church, your preteen ministry probably doesn’t have a huge space. I know I often feel like I just have to work with what I’ve got. But does it have to be that way?

When it comes to small group space, there is no limit on where they can meet. Preteens need structure in their schedule and consistency from their leader, but they are flexible enough to meet in some of the oddest places! If you’re trying to plan a space for your preteens to meet, let your imagination run wild!

We all know the common places a small group can meet—classrooms, homes, circle of chairs in your large group room, etc. Here are a few unique meeting spaces for preteen small groups:

  • Outside (weather permitting)
  • Stairwell
  • Staff Offices
  • Hallways
  • Inside the Church Van (or the garage that holds the Church Van)
  • Local Park
  • McDonald’s (or In-and-Out for the rest of you)
  • Yo Momma’s House (ok, so that one was a joke. Unless, your mom really loves preteens and would let them come over?)

You get the picture, right?

The point here is that any space is better than no space at all.

Space will likely be a hard to find commodity, but it is worth it to try. I’ve found that parents and preteens will accept some pretty off-the-wall small group spaces. Why? Preteens need to connect with the Bible and with other preteens—even if it is in the boiler room!

Where do your small groups meet?  Leave a comment and share your small group space solutions with the rest of us.

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?