How do you include children in small groups? There’s lots of different ways to do this and the best approach varies a lot depending on how many children there are, what ages they are, and even what their personalities are.
I’m going to tell you the simple pattern that we have used most often. This pattern assumes that most of the children are over four years old and that there are not a lot of babies and toddlers. I am outlining the format using the “5 W’s” of a great small group meeting that are explained in chapter six of my book Small Groups/Big Impact. If you are familiar with the 5 W’s, you’ll notice, however, that the order of them is changed.
Opening Question (Welcome)
Start the group with an icebreaker question. Children love answering icebreaker questions. By including them in this part of the meeting you get to know them better and they get to know the other group members. Kids are also good at suggesting icebreakers and sometimes we let them lead this part of the meeting.
Praying for Our Friends that Need God (Witness)
After the icebreaker, take time in smaller groups of two or three to pray for friends that need God. This just takes a couple of minutes as people share one or two names of friends or family members that they are praying for. Mix children in with adults in these groups.
Include the children for the worship time. Children under nine-years old like songs with motions, so you might include one song with motions. (I personally like songs with motions but feel silly doing the motions if there are not children in the group!) If children in the group have musical gifts, they can help by playing instruments or co-leading with an adult.
Bible Study and Ministry Time (Word & Wind)
For the Bible study and prayer portions of the meeting the adults and kids are separate. (Teens can go with the adults or children depending on their ages and personal preferences.) We have done this in different ways. In some of the groups we have led, we have taken turns as adults in pairs leading the children in a short Bible story time followed by a short prayer time, then play time or craft time. If you do this, you need to train the adults in the group how to lead this portion of the meeting. In the group we were in last year, the children just played in the basement during the adults’ study and ministry time, supervised by a teen from the group whom we payed.
After ending the group meeting (on time!), the children join the adults for refreshments.
That’s it. That is one way to include children in small groups. Of course, besides regular group meetings, they are also involved when we do outreach events like serving at a homeless center or visiting a nursing home, and in most of our parties and fun events.
As the number of children in a group grow, you need to change how you do things, bringing in more parents or babysitters to help, particularly if you have toddlers and babies or children who have more needs. So it takes more thought and effort to lead a group with children involved but it’s definitely worth the extra effort, both for what it does for the children and for what it does for the adults!
What ideas, thoughts or questions do you have about including children in small group meetings?