I recently wrote a post on creating unity in your small group in which I shared some things you can do to promote unity in your small group. It was picked up by Church Leaders and Terrace Crawford promoted it with a tweet. That got a reaction from Paul Sheneman. His view: unity isn’t a technicality issue. And he’s right of course, unity isn’t something you can create by following certain steps. Or let me put it this way: following certain steps isn’t a guarantee for unity in your youth group. There’s is no five-step program that results in unity. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
When we want our small groups to thrive, unity within the group is essential. If our small group members are aloof, combative or indifferent, realizing growth will be hard. But what can you do as a small group leader to promote unity? Here’s my advice, based on my own experience as a youth small group leader.
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.
Everyone who has ever lead a small group will have run into this: a small group that is eerily quiet with too long periods of uncomfortable silence. Questions keep lingering in the air, without anyone offering an answer, or the answers are of the one syllable kind. For a leader, a small group that won’t talk, that won’t share, can be a real struggle. One of the reasons for a small group to keep quiet can be that the leader is asking the wrong questions. Because asking the right questions will get your small group to talk!
You know what it’s like. You’re about to start with your small group with teens and you are sincerely interested in how they are, how they have been these last week or two since you last saw them. But the standard question ‘how have you guys been?’ will result in only one or two kids answering and even their answers will be shallow (unless you’re blessed with one of those over-sharing types in your small group, in which case you may have a different challenge all together). So what question can you kick off your small group session with to really get them to share open and honestly? Here’s my advice: ask an awareness question.
What is an awareness question?
An awareness question is a question you ask, that makes your students aware of a specific emotion or experience in a certain time period, usually the last week or two. Each session you can focus on a different emotion or experience, and as the group gets more open, you can make them more personal.
It’s important that you let each member of the group share his or her experience and that you determine a time limit to prevent long winding stories (2 minutes per person usually works). If you have a group of young teens or if you have a few kids that have a tendency to respond negatively to people’s weaknesses, you might consider telling them not to react to each other’s story with questions or remarks. Just make them listen to each other at first.