I spend about three hours every Sunday morning hanging out in the gray room in my church’s kids’ hallway.
I am a small group leader for Kindergarteners through second graders for two of my church’s three Sunday services.
As a SGL, I know my kids better than they know. I know their teachers’ names and what their favorite sports are. I know which ones can tie their shoes and which ones are still learning to read. I know who my crafty kids are, and which ones are more games-oriented.
I also know which ones think the hour they are with me every week is the best part of their week, and which ones their parents have to drag in.
I can read exactly the kind of week my kids had just by looking them in the eyes.
But I haven’t always been this close to my kids. It took a lot of consistency and months of being intentional about asking, memorizing and caring.
I’m not a parent. I’m not a teacher. I’ve never worked with kids before. I had no formal education in kids.
But I’ve learned a few things in the last year. Things I think can help other kids ministry volunteers be better at what they do.
- Be present. Show up – predictably, mentally and randomly. Okay, I stole that from leadsmall.org. Your kids need to know they can count on you (predictably), they are your top priority (mentally) and that you care, even when you don’t “have” to (randomly).
- Be flexible. There are days that all of your kids will show up and be sweet and calm angels and everything goes perfectly, but there will be (probably many) more days that things are far from perfect. You will accidentally have the wrong curriculum. A kid will test you. Your co-leader won’t show up. It’s okay. Be okay with changing things up to better accommodate your group’s needs in that moment.
- Be accessible. My kids know that no matter what we are doing, they can come find me and talk to me about what is on their mind. While my overall role is to lead a group of young students in their journeys of discovering their faith, my deepest calling is to make a real difference in the hearts and lives of my kids. I can’t do that if I’m not willing to listen to them on their own terms.
- Be authentic. Don’t lie to your kids. Let them see exactly who you are. If you want them to tell you about their week, tell them about yours. If you want to know what they are struggling with, tell them what you are struggling with. If you want to know their dreams, tell them yours.
- Be intentionally aware. Pay attention! It’s unbelievable what your kids will tell you if you are just paying attention to them and their conversations while they are in your presence. (Their parents would be mortified if they knew some of the things their kids talked about at church.) Another tip here: If you follow their parents on social media, take mental notes all week so you have talking points with your kids on Sundays.
- Be engaging. Guess what? Chances are, your kids sit in a classroom and get lectured all week. The last thing they want to do is come to church and hear a 45 minute sermon. Their minds cannot handle it. They need to process Bible stories and God’s truths in an engaging environment, full of worship, games and crafts. They need to use all of their senses to process what you want them to learn.
One of my favorite parts of my Sunday morning small group experiences involves a few minutes and a Nerf football. I learned that my highly active boys needed to be able to do something while we had a discussion. So now, when we try to have a discussion about their week or the Bible story (or anything), we get in a circle and pass a football back and forth. This keeps their minds engaged in the discussion and their hands engaged in a somewhat constructive activity. (There are at least 20 other amazing reasons why I take a football to church with me every Sunday morning but that is another post for another day.)
I cannot stress to you enough how much your kids need to know you care. If they don’t perceive you care about the little things, they won’t tell you the big things.
I challenge you to build a team with your kids. Serve as their coach and help them learn how to discover God’s truth for themselves, in their own ways. Have fun and build relationships with them. It is, by far, the longest impacting thing you will do with them.