*These are my notes from the breakout I led at Orange Conference 2017!
How many of us soon realized after being hired as a preschool or early childhood director or assistant that you really don’t spend your days leading kids, but you actually spend them leading the people who lead the kids.
This is why it’s so important that there is a system or structure in place in your small group environments so that everyone can be on the same page about the expectations of those.
Structure: How you arrange or manage various parts so they can support something important.
How do you structure/arrange/manage staff, volunteers, programs, budget calendar, or even those who attend each week so everything supports a relational model within your preschool small groups? These are the behind the scenes decisions that you make that help set up your small groups to win.
The quality of your relationships is linked to the quality of your structure. That’s why we need intentional systems in place to help preschoolers grow in their relationship with God and to connect to a small group leader and to the other kids in their small group.
Structure allows you to go from accommodating your small group leaders to engaging your small group leaders.
These are 3 habits that will help us structure our preschool small groups:
Habit #1 Organize to be Organic (how you staff)
Relationships need structure, (think like dating) but structure isn’t the goal. The goal is relational connection.
When we organize to be organic, we create a structure within our preschool small groups that have enough organization so that small group leaders can cultivate an environment where a preschooler feels safe to explore their world and connect with their leader and other kids.
1. Someone has to own it
You have 2 sides to your ministry: programming and groups. Programming is what happens on the stage while other people watch, the platform, your large group environment. Groups is what happens around our rugs or tables as leaders and kids interact.
Do you have someone who owns the preschool small groups within your ministry? Who determines it? Who pours into it?
In my context, I determine the structure of the small groups, but I also have the children’s assistant and the children’s leadership team helping to steer and guide the groups.
Value of preschool/children’s leadership team: Invite your most committed volunteers to help guide and steer the direction alongside you.
2. Age changes the rules
The younger the age, the more structure is needed. The older the age, the less structure is needed.
Do you have consistent small group leaders? Anytime you have multiple services, the goal should be a consistent leader for every week for a year. Smaller churches with one service, I recommend month on/month off.
Transition is difficult! “Sometimes it takes pain to make progress.” - Craig Groeshel
Are you organized? I mean personally. Do you rush around at the last minute? Do you seem like you’re a couple of steps behind. You can’t expect timeliness and organization from your small group leaders if you’re not modeling it yourself. Do you have acertain time curriculum is out every week?
What’s your schedule in small groups? Our service is 1:10. First 20 minutes Make It Fun (Intro Activities), 15 minutes for Make It True (Large Group), 30 minutes Make it Stick (activities that dig deeper) and Make It Real (circle time) 5 minutes
How is your room structured? Do you have a place to have rug time? Do you have less toys in room to distract?
What are your ministry policies/procedures? Handbook? Do your volunteers know your bathroom policies, snack policy, etc?
Do your SGLs get a say in the structure? I set the tone/structure, but a SGL has the ability to change and adapt
What are the “rules” of small group? Do kids know their responsibility within groups? ex. hands to self, listening ears, walking feet, inside voices, be kind to others
3. Everyone needs a good seat
- Fewer is better
- Preschool average should be 5-7 kids per adult
ex. we cap a room at 14 kids average with 2 adults, then we split
How does this work for smaller churches? How can you combine with the ages so everyone has a good seat? Unique ages/stages - infants, crawlers, walkers, 2s, 3s-5s
- Make sure new kids and families are welcome!
Greet well (check-in experience). Walk don’t point to room. Introduce family and kids to SGL (remember names!). A SGL needs to have excitement when making introducing. Have the SGL introduce the new child to other kids. At pickup, SGL gives resources and explains them. Have the SGL write a card to the new kid to send that week.
Habit #2 Think Steps, not Programs
When you think steps, not programs there is a fundamental difference in your perspective. Your primary goal is not to meet someone’s need, but rather to help someone get where they need to go.
So do to that you must first determine what you want the kids and families to know. Then, you have to figure out how you’re going to get them there.
When we do parent/child dedications, we ask parents to parent with the end in mind. We want them to think about who they hope their children have become when they leave their house at age 18. We encourage parents to have a plan to accomplish this.
The same goes for your ministry. You have to begin with the end in mind and develop the steps to get kids and families there.
The most important thing you could do for your program is to clarify the primary win in your ministry before you can evaluate if a specific program is successful.
Our win: We want to give our preschoolers a first look at the God who made them, the God who loves them and the Jesus who wants to be their friend forever; we partner with parents to help them win in their homes
Sometimes you have to stop doing something that works if you want something more important to work better.
Programs should make it easy, not hard, to participate and move on to what’s next.
Programs should be promoted in a clear way so people can actually see how and why they are important.
Programs should be strategic in the way they support the primary goal or priority of the ministry.
1. Platforms enhance small groups
If we want parents, kids, small group leaders, etc to believe that small groups are important, then it’s important to take a look at what we’re saying about small groups across all of our platforms church-wide.
- cast vision - is the same message happening from the top down? Ex. Our volunteers serve month on/month off - we recognize them in service as coming off their rotation. We do Resource Sunday the first Sunday of the month and in service we show and describe the parent resources that are coming out that day that kids will get in their small groups
- manage time - When running short on time, always cut from your large group time, never your small group time. Our large group time consists of 15 minutes out of 1:10 service.
It's easy to miss the Make it Real portion of the curriculum, but it is one of the most important - It champions the importance of circling up!
2. Events solidify small groups
Always stabilize your small groups as 1st priority - Do that well and then move on to the next thing.
FOCUS - Follow one course until successful
no random events -always ask, “Why are we doing this event?”
ex. We chose not to do big Easter egg hunt event because so many other churches were doing one. We chose to do Family Movie Night the Friday night after Easter because we wanted a follow up for guests after Easter
ex. baby dedication (EMBRACE) - next step for a family who had a baby. Ask family to attend class where they hear about entire family ministry, and they can connect to their SGL and can be loved on by the church.
3. Volunteers reinforce small groups
Baby dedication event — small group leaders help and attend
New baby visit with a gift - babies small group leaders make the visit
Those not in small group roles (ex. front desk/service coordinators) parents are preferred - they know the ministry, they may just need want to be in a room with kids
4. Resources support small groups
- Reallocate: Where does your money go?
Just like with your own personal finances, where you money goes says what you prioritize.
Preschool seems to get a small budget.
Small vision = Small budget
We value: curriculum/small group resources, volunteers/leadership, Embrace, parent resources
We don’t spend much on our large group environment - We want to spend money on small groups.
- Evaluate: Ask yourself, “Is this event working? Does it help us accomplish our goal? Does it take too many resources and is less effective? Every event we do as a Children’s Leadership Team, we discuss and evaluate it. As a preschool director, you need tough skin. “Jesus broke the traditions that value traditions over people.”
Habit #3 Move to the Rhythm
No one will influence a kid more than a parent.
A parent is not the only influence a kid needs.
More people in a kid’s life who are moving to the same rhythm, the greater the impact. Need parents, families and SGL to move together.
Life and culture seem to move to rhythm. We need to learn to move with them.
Even Moses described a rhythm to life we need to have in our parenting in Deut. 6.
1. Cooperate with the patterns of a typical year
- calendar - Holidays/seasons. We try to cue the parent to give them the right info at the right time so they can do more than they would otherwise do.
We try to have small group leaders resource parents around important calendar events - Easter and Christmas send out a lot of resources (Happy Birthday Jesus kits, Advent calendar for families, devotional for week leading up to the Easter Story- The Easter Story gave out a printable for families if you bought the book)
Go Weekly has a ton of resources for parents - ex. Quarterly Hang Times
How do you leverage the calendar to strengthen the group?
- community - Spring Break and Fall Break: no small groups (family services and church in the park)
- ministry - Promotion Sunday; new churches - summer is when people check you out
2. Consider the life cycle of an average group
- beginning - How do you help new kids or kids moving up to a new small group acclimate to SG?Introduction is important, but so is follow up! Kids love to get a treat and a card in the mail. Give small group leaders access to email the parents
- end - How do you pass off to the next SGL? Need to do the transition well from 5s to kindergarten. It takes a month for a preschool to transition and get used to something new. Start introducing your elementary environment a month in advance before the transition.
Do you explain to your parents how a small group changes with the age? For example, our walkers stay in their room and we have some activities along with a craft and then they watch the Bible Story video in their class. When they graduate to the 2s, they have more structure in the curriculum and schedule. They “travel” to large group.
Structure communicates to small group leaders, kids and parents that a preschool environment is not just childcare - it's a ministry with a plan and a purpose.
I highly recommend reading Creating a Lead Small Culture! That's where much of this breakout orginated from.