A Note from Mary Margaret West: Anyone else ever have a hard time keeping the attention of a group of teenage girls? Ha! It’s not just you. Amy is a counselor and student pastor’s wife, and she’s got some great ideas for you to try with your small group!
“Lead a 6th grade girls group!” they said. “It will be fun!” they said.
Imagine this. You are leading a 6th grade Sunday morning girls group. You are tasked by your wonderful student team to discuss the story of the Bleeding Woman. Sounds easy enough, right?! (Insert the scary laugh here).
You circle around as a group to begin the discussion and up pops every distraction under the sun. One girl has a final she is preparing for and is freaking out about it. One decided she is going to tear up her styrofoam cup in pieces and throw at different members of the group. Another one is in gymnastics and loves to show everyone her newly landed back walkover. Someone remembered something random she did with her family the week before and it can’t wait one more second. Another decided to put a sticky note in someone’s hair for a good laugh and reaction. This is all within 15 minutes. Lord Jesus, help us. Next thing you know, they will be locking you in the closet.
Before you drink another cup of coffee and contemplate jumping ship, let’s talk about some battle plans that just might turn the coup upside down.
First things first: You.
Where are you at? Not your physical location, but your heart location. When you walk into that group you walk in with all the baggage of your normal world. Have you had a rough week with your kids? Feeling like a failure? Stressed beyond the limit? Where you are at matters to the dynamics of the group. Collect what you notice about your heart condition and spend a minute closing your eyes, look at Jesus, and confess your heart condition to Him. When you are done heart purging, allow Jesus to be who He says He is. He is always with you. He will not leave you. His burden is light and He gives you rest.
Now that you are walking in to the group feeling Jesus at your side, you are battle ready.
Second: Have girls confess before battle.
Just like you have the baggage of your normal world walking in to that group, so do your girls. Stay curious for a minute. What could possibly be going on with the girls that would make their behavior and lack of focus make sense? Maybe they have had a rough morning and got yelled at. Maybe they are feeling not valuable and desired because the girls at school are leaving them out. Maybe they are stressed out because they have an intense schedule full of school and sports. Already you might notice that your heart is starting to soften towards those coop starters.
So how do we deal with all the internal realities that will stand in the way of our discussion being focused and beneficial? We have them confess before battle just like you or you will fight those internal realties the entire group time. Around the circle, each girl answers the question, “where are you at?” Confessions might sound like this: “I’m super distracted.. my brain is all over the place”. “My entire family was in a big fight this morning… my mom yelled at me for taking too long getting dressed.” “I’m not really feeling pretty… I feel like everyone is dressed better than me and I don’t like my outfit.” “I’m just feeling down or sad today.”
Tell them, “thanks for sharing.” Now have them close their eyes, look at Jesus, and begin in general confessing to Jesus for them about what they had just shared. Tell them to imagine Jesus loving them really big there with lots of comfort and rest. This exercise of prayer can quiet their minds and ground their bodies.
With them more grounded and focused, you are now ready to start the discussion.
Lay out some ground rules for the group at the onset. “We have 20 minutes where we are going to super focus on a story from the Bible. Can we commit to staying on task together so we can hear powerful things Jesus might want to hand us that can help us in our life?”
This isn’t a foolproof plan but a strong foundation to build on.
Sometimes there is a girl that will struggle no matter what foundation is built. For example, the rogue girl who is seeking attention. I have been known to be playful here and say, “Girl.. you are loving the stories today, you are on storytelling-restriction or detail-restriction.” The group thinks this is funny and it is a way to confront the distraction but protects the attention-seeking girl from being shamed.
If someone will not reign in no matter what effort is made, pull them aside to talk to them. Stay curious. “Hey.. I’m noticing you are having a hard time staying on task in group. What’s going on with you? You okay?” Maybe call the momma and stay curious about what is going on in the girls world. Avoid punitive or making the parents feel like it’s their problem or fault. Say something like, “I want to learn how to help and love her big.” This gives you an extra place to love the girls in your group by connecting to their family.
A crazy practical thing you can do is have fidgets, putty, hard candy, stress balls, and gum accessible. All of these activities have the ability to focus the mind and gives them something to do. Don’t forget the basket for cell phones during discussion time. Connection to cell phones can be a major distraction.
Above all, consistently work to build connection with their hearts. The more connected they feel to you, the more influence you have over the culture of the group. The above suggestions fail if your relationship with them feels distant, unloving, and punitive. The culture you create in that circle is your biggest help or hindrance in your mission to hold focus on biblical discussion at hand.
Hang in there. What you do matters. You are part of the village that helps the next generation turn to Jesus in connection and guidance through their life. Jesus is pleased with you.
Amy Butler stays busy being a student pastor’s wife, a mom of 4, and a licensed trauma counselor. She runs a non profit that takes trauma care to international workers around the world. Amy also enjoys training and equipping foster/adoptive parents as she is an adoptive mom herself. Amy’s greatest passion is connecting people to Jesus.