A Note from Lifeway Girls: This one goes out to all of you who are launching new groups this Fall! It doesn’t matter if you’ve been leading groups for 20 years or just starting your very first group. Whenever you get a new group of girls to lead, I think we can all agree that there are so many unknown expectations and tons of anticipation. Our prayer is that Lindsay’s post will encourage you to step into your new role with courage and full dependance upon the Lord.
Have you seen the adorable pictures on social media of first days of school complete with color-coordinated outfits and chalkboard signs? (First, let’s get this out of the way – everyone breathe a sigh of relief if your first day of school picture was also snapped quickly in the garage. I am still trying to figure out how to crop out the trashcan. Moving on.) Back to the pictures, you can often see the underlying emotions of the child in a simple glimpse of one of those photos: excited, nervous, or just annoyed that mom has her camera, again.
I wonder what others would see if you and I stood with our chalkboard sign reading, “First day of small group.” What emotions would your picture articulate? Sister, no matter how you’re feeling about starting a small group, I am so glad you’re here. Jesus is going to do a mighty work in your group this year, so, by faith, we can approach this year with confidence.
I do not have all the answers. Actually, I feel like being a leader most days simply means I am the learner, who just happens to be in front. I am learning and growing right beside you, whether you are a first-time leader or seasoned teacher. However, my family has moved often in the last five years, so I have grown accustomed to starting new groups and breaking the ice each fall. Let’s chat about some tips for beginning a new group.
Get rid of expectations that depend on you!
Do you need to be prepared? Absolutely! Do we always want to teach or serve to the best of our ability? Yes! But I promise (from experience) the moment you walk into the night with an expectation resting on your effort, you will walk away feeling empty and disappointed. The amazing example you spent all day thinking of will not resonate. You will forget a supply for the incredible activity you designed. Your girls will be in a silly mood and giggle through prayer time. It is going to happen. You will question your effectiveness every time, if your expectations are connected to your effort. Promise. Four years ago, I read a verse which I began praying before each meeting time with my group:
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” —1 Corinthians 2:1-5
When my expectation is simply to point to Jesus and leave every other expectation up to Him, I walk away able to trust that He is in control even when the night did not go according to my plans.
Do not try and teach a lesson immediately.
This is my most practical and used tip. If you are in a church setting with a set schedule and curriculum, you will need to exercise creativity here. Could you ask the youth pastor for permission to meet 30 minutes early the first night? Could you contact the parents and ask to meet everyone at a local coffee shop the week before groups begin? I think this step is so valuable in building the trust which leads to genuine conversation.
In the past, I met with my groups one week prior to officially starting. I purchased (or had them bring their own) plain notebook. We decorated journals together and talked about our expectations for small group that year. A helpful question is “Why did you come tonight?” or “What do you hope to learn in our group this year?” As a group, set some guidelines for your time. Let the girls have ownership in the group, to whatever degree is appropriate. Could they take turns emailing out prayer requests, bringing a snack, or choosing a verse to memorize together? Often my girls come up with the best ideas for our group!
Approach your new group with humility.
Any seasoned leaders out there? I can easily rely on my assumptions about how a group of women will act or respond, solely based on the group I worked with a year prior. If I am honest, a lot of these assumptions come from pride. I think I know what I am doing; I think I know exactly what they’re going through and how to serve them. I think I can jump up to the front of the room and lead, but really, I need to show up as a humble learner every time. Part of learning is adapting and changing. Do not feel the burden to stick to a certain schedule just because you did it the first three meetings. If you feel like prayer at the beginning of the gathering, instead of the end, helps the girls focus better, great! Change It up as you learn!
Pray as you research and after you research.
To be humble learners, we need to be disciplined to sit in a posture where we can hear the Lord’s voice. We live in a time where just about every answer can be found on our phone and the research we can do on a topic is seemingly endless. I am thankful for all the resources available to us, but I also know, without caution, I will end up minimizing the importance of prayer. So yes, read the articles, glean the tips, watch the videos, but do not neglect praying to the One who knows the number of hairs on each of your girls’ heads (Matt. 10:30). He knows what you need and what they need this year.
And dear first-time leaders, one more thought to close us out – you do not need to have all the answers. Let me say that again for the returning leaders who need the reminder. You do not need to have all the answers. When you get a question to which you don’t know the answer, don’t panic or throw out an immediate answer. Talk to the youth pastor before your next meeting, pray, encourage the young women to discuss the question with their parents and, together, look to Scripture for an answer. It is a success, not a failure, to remind others that God alone knows every answer!
Are you starting a new group this year or do you have experience with starting a group? We would love to hear from you. Please share ideas or questions in the comments. Thank you for your obedience to serve the next generation this year! Praying with you and for you, sister!
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Lindsay Smith is a follower of Jesus living in Texas. She is the wife of a football coach and the mom of a precious son, who joined their family through the miracle of adoption. She is a writer, coffee connoisseur, and “expert” shoe shopper. For the last decade, she has been discipling teenage girls and believes God is doing a mighty work in the next generation. Connect with Lindsay: Instagram.