(We're enjoying the rare Snow Day in Birmingham, AL. Since the ym360 offices are empty, we're running a previously posted ym360 Blog article. It's a good one. Hope you enjoy!)
The Small Group Fizzle.
We've all been there. What starts out as a strong small group hits a few bumps in the road. Maybe a sports season causes a drop in attendance. Maybe you have personal stuff that causes you to miss a few times. Maybe you struggle gaining back your momentum after the holidays. Whatever the case, oftentimes these little "bumps" begin to add up. And next thing you know, what was a meaningful gathering turns into drudgery. You've fizzled. And if you've been there, it's no fun.
But it doesn't have to be that way. There are things we can do to fight the fizzle.
Here are three thoughts on how to keep your small groups healthy over the long haul. I wonder after reading them what you'd add . . .
Help Group Members Define The Group's Purpose
It's important for you to know the purpose of your time in small group. But it's equally important for students to know this.
We all know that in every group there are different levels of student engagement. Some students are dialed in, and some can barely stay awake. Regardless, it's a great idea to help each individual (as much as possible) express in his or her own words what they would like to get out of their time in the group.
It’s helpful to do this in terms of growth or change. Ask, “How do you want to be different as result of spending time in this group setting?” or “What changes do you want to see made in your life as a result of your involvement in this group?” For your “dialed in” students, this is a great way to help them articulate why they attend. For those students who aren't super-committed, the hope is that they will at least consider that they might actually get something out of the time they invest in the group. ☺
Have students actually write down their thoughts so you can refer to them as you move forward.
[BONUS: Leverage technology as a means of providing you with a copy of their definitions (i.e., have them text it to you, have them take a picture of what they've written and text it, etc.).]
Keep Your Purpose Out Front
As a leader, keeping your group's purpose or vision out front is key in not only motivating participation, but for keeping the group on track. Make it a point a few times a month to simply remind the group why it is you’re meeting. (And if you've somehow saved students' personal responses, you can remind them using their own words!)
[BONUS: The cool thing about defining a purpose is that you can use it to periodically provide a “check up” for your groups' overall health. Maybe a couple of times a year you can ask, “Are we still acting in line with our purpose? And if not, what do we need to change to get back on track?” If you don't articulate a purpose, it's hard to measure effectiveness.]
Intentional Communication Is Key
Poor, or inconsistent communication from a leader will kill a group. Here are three principles for communication that keep a small group thriving:
1. Communicate Consistently To The Group: Don’t create hoops for your group members (or their parents) to jump through to get the information they need. Find the method or methods for communication that work and use them the same way each week.
2. Information Is Important . . . : Give students and parents only the essential info, and do it far enough in advance so they can take action. Too much info is paralyzing. But even the perfect amount of info delivered too late to do anything with is useless.
3. . . . But Motivation Is Vital: If the only thing you communicate to group members is information, you lose. Motivation is WAY more important in creating a healthy small group. Make sure your communication scale is tipped more toward the “motivation and encouragement side” than the “information side.”
4. Strategic Communication to Individuals: Communicating info to the entire group is important. But personal, individual touch points are vital to a healthy group dynamic. Make it a point to reach out to individual group members between group meetings. If you have a larger group, it might not be feasible to reach all of them each week. Your goal should be that each group member gets personal contact from you at least every few weeks.
Does it take more intentionality on your part? Of course. But you'll find that after a few weeks of making these changes, it will become a part of who you are. You won't even think about it.
Besides, the alternative just isn't acceptable. None of us want to lead groups that aren't effective, or that fade over time.
So, whether you implement these methods, or your own, your goal should be small groups that grow stronger with time.