Small Group Leaders: Interacting with Children
The main task of the small group leader is to “interact personally with each child in his
group in order to encourage the child in spiritual growth.” Of course, the first response
that comes to mind is to think about the small group time and activities that are
connected to it (discussions, prayer, notes to the child, visits, calls to parents, outings,
etc.) However, there is another dimension to what a small group leader can do to foster
spiritual growth in children and that is interacting with children during transitions, worship
time, and the lesson. In addition, the small group leader may take advantage of
“teachable moments”. Some of this interaction may be aimed at relationship building,
some at encouragement, and some at developing personal discipline. Hopefully, as a
result of the rest of this article, the importance of this dimension will be more clearly
The first transition time takes place after children enter the room and before any “formal”
activity begins. During this time younger children play and older children “get settled.”
With young children it is more natural to be involved with a child or a group because play
areas are designated and adults know that there is limited ability on the part of the “little
ones” to take personal responsibility. As children grow older, however, the response of
adults seems to be dulled. An observer is more likely to see adults in a cluster at the
back or side of the room and children visiting or waiting. This is probably because the
adults know the children have a greater ability to be responsible and “take care of
themselves.” Yet from a different perspective this is a great time to get to know the
children, build relationships, and model being a Christian adult. Here are a few
suggestions to make the most of this time.
· Welcome the child by name. Be aware of the child’s demeanor and try to have
an intentional personal connection with the child. This interaction can range from
“Glad to see you, Joe,” to a comment on hair, clothes, etc, to “I missed you last
week,” “Did you get the Fighter Verse,” or “Have a good week?”
· Choose a child or children with whom you would like to visit. This can
happen while the child is entering the room, in the play area, or when he/she has
found a chair. For older children the door area is a good place to visit because
you can talk to an individual child and still fit in a few greetings or “hellos” to
others (if appropriate) as they enter. If you cannot greet them as they enter be
sure to let them know later on that you saw them.
· Stand, sit, or assume whatever posture is appropriate for the age group, to
talk with two or three children in a group. It is okay if the beginning the
conversation is limited or seems a little uncomfortable. You may even have to
invite yourself to be involved. The important thing is to establish that it is
acceptable and comfortable to talk to an adult during this transition time. A lot of
very profitable interactions can result.
· Make a point of following up on previous interactions or things that you
know are important to the child. Children remember things they have shared
which were important or significant to them. Questions like, “Did you get your
puppy?”, “Where is the Viking jacket you liked so much?’, “Was the Fighter
Verse easier or harder this week?” “Did you remember to pray?” can be ways to
develop relationships and have meaningful interactions.
While it is impossible to do everything every Sunday, it is possible and necessary to
build relationships and have ongoing interactions with children every Sunday. Distance
from adults should be discouraged. Children respond to “encouragement to grow
spiritually” more openly with adults who know them and who they know more personally.
A lot can be done with the children in the room using time that is available during
The next transition takes place when children move from the lesson into their small
group time. While time is limited, and should be because it is needed for the small
group, it is still possible for short personal interactions (probably more meaningful than
we think) to take place. Such things as asking a child to carry something for you, a
comment on their involvement/behavior in class or “Hope you are ready for some hard
questions in small group.”, “Did you like the lesson?” can have significant impact on a
child, particularly if it goes on throughout the year.
(NOTE: This means small group leaders must have all materials and other preparations
in place before the children arrive and the class begins.)
Let us not forget the last transition, the end of small group time. Children may be
focused on leaving and parents may be focused on getting their child, so time is limited.
However, it is a time when acknowledgements and good byes can be done. Certainly
comments like the following can be fit in: “Good bye, see you next week.”, “Good
answer to the question about (fill in the blank), Tom.”, “Nice picture, be sure to show
mom and dad.”, or “Keep up the good work on Fighter Verses.” Again, small group
leader must intentionally carry this out. This means whatever needs to be put away will
have to wait and some structure (positioning of the small group leader or organization for
dismissal) will have to be planned.
(NOTE: In all of these encounters, the adult is modeling the Christian man or woman, a
“new creature in Christ.” What an impact on the children to experience support, caring,
interest, reflection, or a touch from this adult who has been identified as a Christian.
Part of thinking and preparing for these transitions needs to be through prayer around
such scriptural imperatives as Colossians 4:6.)
Worship Time and Lesson Time
The responsibilities of the small group leader during worship and teaching are contained
in the Small Group Leaders handout in your Sunday School folder. It clearly identifies
things small group leaders can do to make these times more meaningful for the children.
It might be helpful for you to review this list.
“The small group leader must be actively involved in whatever is going on in the
classroom. He is NEVER a spectator. He is constantly monitoring the class in order to
respond to what is happening.” This statement clearly indicates that the small group
leader does not just listen to or sing along with the worship leader or just listen to the
lesson. He must be ACTIVELY INVOLVED, CONSTANTLY MONITORING IN ORDER
TO RESPOND TO WHAT IS HAPPENING AROUND HIM. Here are a few suggestions
for being actively involved.
· Sit among the children and not next to another adult or in a ring around the
back of the room. Sitting with the children shows that you want to be with them.
Find a seat before everything gets started and talk to the children around you.
One nice thing to do is to ask the child or children if you can sit with them.
(Remember, with older children there might be a little “uncomfortable time.”)
· Be involved in the worship. Sing as heartily as you can even if you think you
have a bad voice. It might be nice for a child to be encouraged by an adult
whose physical voice is not so good, but whose heart overflows in song to the
Lord. (You can always make a comment to those next to you such as “I have a
bad voice, but a glad heart” or “Thanks for singing with me.”)
· If there are motions to a song, do them with enthusiasm (at least as much as
your personality allows). Show real enjoyment. Some of the words in the songs
and comments made by the worship leader cannot help but bring an expression
· Take a comment or a question from the worship time to your small group
time. It could be a word, line from a song or a point of emphasis made by the
· Get requests from your small group or the children you sit with and share
them with the worship leader. It is beneficial for kids have input, to think about
the songs that they like, and why they like a particular song.
· Monitor the children around you and encourage them to sing. Boys
particularly need encouragement in singing. A short conversation or comment
such as, “I noticed you singing; isn’t it great.” or “I didn’t see you singing. Were
you singing in your heart?” (One word of caution: be careful not to cause undue
embarrassment to a child in front of others.)
· Sit with different children. While you may want to zero in on children in your
small group God may have an appointment for you with a child or children in
· Constantly monitor what is going on around you. Children sometimes get
carried away with the motions that go with a song. Children can get overly
enthusiastic with fast paced, energetic songs. They can get distracted during the
lesson. Children do tend to whisper, and sometimes they have an inappropriate
agenda. Remember that God invented adults to help children grow into adults
with the qualities He appreciates in them. Keeping children focused or drawing
them back to focus (whether it is the worship time or the lesson) is the
responsibility of loving, caring adults. This takes a response. Notice what hands
are doing, what the body position is, where the eyes are, what is going on
between children. In other words, nurturing and shaping children requires being
aware of the signs and signals of what is going on with the children around you.
· Choose what needs a response and what does not. The timing and type of
response must be decided by the individual and depends on the situation. (A
glance or smile between friends after an enthusiastic song, even with a couple of
words is very different from continual whispering or a conversation that goes on
into the next song.). It can be a direct response to what is happening at the time
or it can be deferred to when an appropriate circumstance permits. It can be a
glance, a watchful look, a hand on the shoulder, a short directive or a nonverbal
cue. In any case, responses are appropriate and necessary. CHILDREN NEED
TO KNOW ADULTS SEE THEM AND WILL GIVE THEM GUIDANCE.
· Don’t be afraid to let children know expectations for behavior Do not be
afraid to compliment good behavior. It is a great thing for a child to be
acknowledged for good or improved behavior. Even to have an adult notice how
difficult it was to sit through a longer lesson can be an encouragement.
This is not an exhaustive commentary on the work of the small group leader outside of
the small group, but hopefully it gives some ideas to consider and will encourage you to
“interact personally” to “encourage the child to grow spiritually.”
A small group leaders involvement with children begins when the children enter the room
and goes through the lesson. Their work is never done. Praise God for that opportunity.