A Small Group Leader’s Guide to Failure

By James Forina

Leading small groups can either be a huge blessing, or it can be a huge pain. Here are a couple of tips that I have about what didn’t work.

The first small group, oh how I dread thee! 

That first time you meet with a new group of teens is awkward. Just own it. So, how do you start a small group? 

Start with the end in mind, prayer.  Always start and end each small group in a prayer. Make sure everyone knows that each small group member will lead a prayer for the group. I suggest the group leader leads the first prayer.  This way, you can model what it looks like to pray with your small group.  Many of them have never prayed out loud before. Ever. Asking one of them to lead prayer that first small group could cause them to shut down. Instead, model it.

My biggest flop for the first small group was to have everyone go around and say their name, age, and a fun fact. No teen has a fun fact at their disposal that livens up the group. The best small groups I have been a part of started in a game to get the retreatants having fun. You can check out this link for a video on games to play. Then, I would make sure to ask names and have them describe to me what their perfect day would be. I would walk them through the day, ask them what time they would get up, what the weather was like, what they would be eating, who was there, and so on. This got them to open up, and I got to ask them questions within this question. The first small group’s goal is to have the teens feel at ease and create an environment for sharing.

It’s all about ME!

I was co-leading a small group a couple of years back, and if you learn nothing else, please do not do this: We all went into the first small group, and my co-leader very literally did not stop talking. The teens did not get a word in edgewise. The small group time is not a time to get on a soapbox and preach at the youth. The goal is to get a good discussion going in this time. Make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak and encourage the quieter members to speak their minds.

To combat speaking too much, I had someone in my small group say that he was okay to sit in silence for twenty-five minutes if no one would talk. Most of the time, teens at Catholic retreats or youth groups feel awkward and feel even more awkward in silence. Someone will break, I promise! This technique makes the teens take more ownership of the small group. This could backfire if everyone in the group is quiet by nature, but this has only happened to me once.  So, before you do this, get a read on the group.

I messed up pretty badly one retreat because I did not talk to my guys outside of the allotted small group times. It speaks volumes when you interact with your small group members outside of the small group meeting. Making more of a bond within the small group will help everyone.

You’ve got this because God’s got you, and you can learn from my misadventures!

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