Although my teaching may never again be in a formal classroom, I am forever grateful for my background in education. Through the classes I took, observation hours I clocked and the first graders I taught, I gained invaluable skills. Skills like public speaking, breaking down harder concepts into smaller chunks, communicating clearly and managing a room full of people.
Perhaps you have decided to step out and lead a small group for the first time, or maybe you have been leading one for years. As a way to encourage you I thought it might be helpful to share some teacher tips as you start a new semester.
After all, sharing is caring.
Don’t forget the snacks.
Food not only fills the pains of hunger, it brings people together. There is a reason that the kitchen is called the heart of the home–we naturally gather around food. Nothing fancy required — popcorn, fruit or chips will do. Allow some time before you begin each meeting to chat, laugh and socialize with each other. I suggest offering snacks at the beginning to help ensure that no rumbly tummies steal focus from the lesson.
Pro tip: Pass around a sign up sheet asking others to help provide snacks. Even a store bought snack can look fancy when placed on a platter. Don’t stress or blow the budget on snacks, but don’t neglect them either.
Silence is golden.
Silence can be uncomfortable and awkward, painful even. But, there is value in welcoming silence to a group. After a question is asked, allow everyone time to process, recall and gather their thoughts. It is our natural tendency to add noise to the void that silence creates. Silence provides space and room for deep contemplation and reflection; silence can also be the very thing needed to spur on others toward courageously sharing their ideas.
Allowing a safe space for silence demonstrates the importance placed on each individual by offering everyone an opportunity to get their thoughts in order and add their voice to the conversation.
Pro tip: Silently count to at least 15, with Mississippis, before rephrasing the question or offering an answer. I know, it will feel like an eternity, but you are strong. You can do hard things.
It’s okay to NOT make it through a lesson.
Although preparing for a small group may not require as many hours as classroom teaching, a good leader should have a clear direction for each meeting. Whether a chapter in a book, a passage of scripture or a specific topic, there needs to be a flow in transitioning from one question or focus to the next. It is the responsibility of the leader to create an atmosphere that is warm and welcoming, and individuals need to feel that attending is time well spent.
With that being said, there will be times when the Holy Spirit leads in another direction. Perhaps someone is dealing with something that needs immediate attention and prayer. Or, maybe the learning from the lesson goes in a direction you weren’t expecting. Wonderful! A common Chinese phrase is: Plans can’t keep up with change. Embrace the impromptu leading of the Spirit.
Pro tip: If you are consistently not getting through lessons because you have one who likes to dominate the conversation, learn to insert yourself and redirect the attention back to the subject matter at hand. Thank you for sharing is a polite way to (casually) interrupt and pull in another participant or ask another question.
Visuals add interest and help increase understanding.
Cheesy props and illustrations might evoke an eye roll or two, but they can be powerful tools in learning. They help provide meaning to harder concepts and really solidify the point of a lesson. I love incorporating picture books into small group lessons. My favorite book for small groups is You are Special by Max Lucado. Seriously, I’ve even read it to a room full of church leaders.
Use your imagination, get creative. If it helps you understand a concept, chances are it will also help others.
Pro tip: Read You are Special by Max Lucado to your small group. If you need any other suggestions, just ask, I’ve got them.
Listen to the spoken, but pay special attention to that which is left unspoken.
In teacher speak we call this withitness. It simply means that you are aware of everything going on in the room at all times. If you notice that someone seems quiet or upset, pull them aside afterwards and ask if they need to talk, would like prayer or just need a hug. Have everyone fill out a notecard with prayer requests during each meeting and be faithful to pray over them regularly. Send texts, emails and snail mail to encourage everyone and let them know how much they add to the group.
If you notice that a particular lesson is not working and conversation is not flowing, abandon ship. Go another direction. After all, you are the leader.
One last import note: being timely is one way to let others know you value them and their time. If it looks like the conversation is going to go longer than expected give a warning to let everyone know that they are welcome to stay, but also giving people freedom to leave. Being mindful of the time also helps keep things moving along.
Leading, of any kind, requires trial and error, knowing the people you are leading and understanding your own gifts and leadership style. Above all, be yourself.
Hopefully, these tips will be beneficial for you in your small group endeavors. And, please pass this along to friends who could use these tips as well.
What tips or tricks do you use in leading a small group?