7 Simple Tricks Every Small Group Leader Should Know

We know that Jesus shared His most important truths in Small Groups. We’ve talked about 2 Essential Ways to Know if Your Small Group is Effective. We looked at the Teaching Secret of Jesus, and the Small Group Power Tool Every Small Group Leader Should Use. But, maybe you’re wondering, “What about the basics? What about the times I just can’t get my students to talk, or they’re so out of control we can’t focus on anything?”


Small Groups, Youth Ministry, Student Ministry, uthmin, stumin

(Photo by led_head101at Creative Commons) 

I don’t pretend to have all the answers to the small group problems we face. But here are 7 tricks every small group leader should know:

  1. Expect great things. Students respond to your expectations. Do you assume that middle school students are always out-of-control and crazy? They’ll prove you right. On the other hand, if you expect them to wrestle with deep things, they’ll prove you right there, too. What do you expect from your students?
  2. Respect the ‘Mirror Principle.’ Simply put, students will do whatever you do. If you slouch back and seem bored, so will they. If you lean in and set the tone with your energy, they’ll follow your lead. Speak with enthusiasm. Let them know—by your body language—that you’re expecting great things. What message are you sending?
  3. Quit talking. Pause. Ask a question, and then count to 13. Don’t do any more than 50% of the talking. No, really! How can you show your students that you’re listening?
  4. Engage with them personally. Talk to them about something (positive) you saw on Facebook. Ask them about their prayer request from last week. Let them know this is about more than just content or a group—it’s about them. How can you show your students you care?
  5. Have few rules, and enforce them. Don’t try to manage everything, but do enforce what you’ve decided. Decide on your small group guidelines together (‘What do you think will make this a good small group? How will we need to treat each other?’) and then enforce those. You want to create a group culture conducive to growth. What culture does your small group have?
  6. Protect your group members from each other. Identify your introverts, and create opportunities for them to speak. Introverts aren’t necessarily shy or socially quiet (that’s a misconception), but they do typically prefer to think before they speak (a novel idea for an extrovert like me!). Which students in your group need to be protected?
  7. Create space for hard questions and uneasy conversations. Lead the way through your own vulnerability. Make your group a safe place for people to be honest and real. How can you create space for honest questions?

Leading small groups is a sacred responsibility—and a blessing! What tips would you add for small group effectiveness? Leave a comment here.

(Next time: We’ll wrap up our series on small groups by looking at the ultimate small group—Jesus and the 12 Apostles. To see the entire series on small groups, click here.)

  • Martine Meland

    Great blog. Not only would these tricks be useful for small group leaders but couldn’t they be used by parents raising a family (small group) as well?

  • This is a great list! I’ll be sure to include it when training youth leaders! I really love the first one, it’s a great reminder. Keep it up, Rob!

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