Small group rules

For some reason, a lot of small group leaders are afraid to come up with rules for their small group. Sometimes even the mention of the word rule seems to throw them into a frenzy. There’s this idea that hospitality and warmth in a small group are not compatible with rules, that if you want teens and students to feel welcome in your house, you have to give them complete freedom.

I don’t agree with that. If you want you small group to function well, you need rules. Because a small group session that’s interrupted by the constant ringing and bleeping of cell phones really isn’t productive. And unless you want your furniture demolished, some ground rules about the use of your home might come in handy too.

Students don’t mind rules, they’re used to them. They have rules in their own homes, in school, in the sports they’re playing. They know about rules, so they won’t be surprised that you have some for small group as well.  And the great things about clear rules that you’ve agreed on together, is that you can actually tell people when they’re violating them.

You can only enforce the rules if you've made them clear

We’ve always had rules in our small groups and nobody ever made a fuss about them. As a matter of fact, they only contributed to a good atmosphere, respect, and last but not least: a long, healthy life for our furniture.

What is important though, is that you agree on them together. Don’t just lay down the rules, make sure your small group members are actively involved in creating the rules and that they understand the reasoning behind them.

In the first or second session of your small group, start a discussion on small group rules. Whenever possible, let them come up with rules they think are necessary. You can always add anything they didn’t think of later on. Take some time to discuss the necessity of these rules. Do they understand why they can’t talk to others about what’s been discussed in small group?  Do they agree that when you commit to being in a small group, you’re expected to attend? If you create the rules together and find a common agreement, you’ll find that they’re much more inclined to live by these rules.

You can also consider writing them down, making a sort of small group covenant and have everyone sign this. We’ve done this a couple of times. It worked especially well with teens who had little experience in small groups yet. Every time someone would violate the rules, we gently ask them to read them again and that was enough.

Here’s a list of things to consider for your small group rules:

  • All cell phones and other equipment are switched off
  • We let each other finish, no interruptions
  • We listen to each other and react with respect, even if we disagree
  • Everyone is present when possible and will notify the small group leader when being absent
  • We start on time and we end on time
  • We dress modestly (for more ideas on this, read ‘Does your youth ministry need a dress code?’)
  • We bring a Bible, pen and paper to each session
  • Confidentiality: what happens in small group, stays in small group

And while we have never written these down, we’ve also made clear some rules about the use of our home. It’s perfectly okay to ask them to take their shoes off (like we did), or that they can’t eat chips on the brand new couch. We’ve asked our students to keep it down when they leave, because of our somewhat elderly neighbors. They didn’t always think of it, but a gentle reminder was usually enough.

What rules have you come up with for your small group? Have you written them down? What are your experiences with rules?

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