Large Group/Small Group Faith Formation

Light bulb moments – that moment when we just know that something has “clicked” for one of our young disciples.  I have seen more of these moments in the past couple years using the large group / small group format, than I ever have with another format.  I’ve also had more parents report kids singing worship music at home, remembering what they learned at church, and developing better spiritual discipline habits.

Now what makes me think it’s the format? Certainly, I most credit God’s grace and the dedicated loving leaders we have, but I also believe that the format we use on Sunday morning creates a unique atmosphere for learning and faith formation. Here’s why:

  1. It doesn’t look or feel like school.

It’s the weekend, no kid wants to be in school.  Frankly, a lot don’t want to get out of bed. So that’s why we don’t call our program “Sunday School”, or let it resemble anything of school. There are no tables or chairs in our space either.

Large Group / Small Group usually starts with Large group and allows kids an element of entertainment within a lesson.  Curriculums vary, but most can accommodate either provided or added video content, skits and drama, object lessons, and more.  We like to vary the way we share the Bible story with our kids so that no matter what their favorite is, they will get a taste of it throughout the month.  Also, it allows video content to be a “treat”. Kids love participating in drama, and object lessons (tried and true!) are still a great memory-maker.

Small group doesn’t feel like school at all.  With a small group leader having no more than eight kids in a group, kids are given real individual attention – something they seldom get at school. Leaders become trusted friends, not teachers.  Real honesty develops within the group.

Most curriculums call for very little “arts and crafts”.  We add a little bit in here and there for our kids who need hands-on time, but we also let this slide a bit, in favor of having more time for discussion.  Kids “recall” what they learned in large group, but also “reflect” on how it applies to their life.  When time consuming crafts are left out, there is more time for this. But we always find an occasion for glitter! 😉

  1. It allows time and space for worship experience.

This format lends itself easily to including a worship experience.  Whether you add music before the large group lesson, or between large group and small group, or both (If you have a longer time to fill – bless you!), kids have an opportunity to be formed by music.

How did our ancestors learn their theology? Through hymns.  How can our kids learn and be formed by theology? Through worship music. This of course means to be careful what you choose, and be ready to answer off the wall questions about lyrics (Wait, you’re already in Children’s ministry – you know what I mean!).

We also have an offering during this time and a child-appropriate communion service once a month. We have also done a service of remembering their baptism during this time.  Two points here: 1) Kids deserve an opportunity for these acts of piety – now. 2) If kids never get a chance to participate in these things now, why do we think they will value them later?

If your kids don’t have a regular opportunity to worship with the “big people” of our church, having some element of worship in your program becomes essential.  And this format may help you make worship feel more natural and authentic.

  1. It provides “relational depth”.

This is the wonder of small group particularly.  With more individual attention, kids get a chance to form deeper relationships with their leaders – so choose them wisely, as always! In addition, there are more leaders in the same space.  If a kid doesn’t connect well with their grade level small group leader, they might with another leader they see at large group, or with the lesson leader in large group.  There are multiple leaders in this format, which is a real gift to our kids.

  1. It suites various learning styles and personalities.

Introvert? No problem – you can hide for a bit in large group before being encouraged to share.  Extrovert? There’s a small group leader that is enthused to hear your thoughts!

Can’t read well? No problem.  There are plenty of other kids to do it. Love to read in a big group? Plenty of spot lights available!

Can’t sing? No problem, just turn up the music and let kids dance. Love to sing? Give them a mic!

There’s really something for everybody!

Now you may be thinking, wait, isn’t this just for larger churches? What about if you only have twenty kids?  Well it really could work for you.  Twenty kids spread about by age can feel pretty lonely, and honestly awkward for kids.  But put them in the same space, and it’s more fun.

Also, you can get away with less work for your leaders. Assign one leader to lead Large group, and then 1 leader per 5-8 kids for small group.  Your Large Group leader gets a captive audience and then can relax and just jump into a small group.  Your small group leaders have very little to prepare and focus most on relationship building and shepherding kids through the Bible lesson.  No prepping crafts – just prepping their hearts.

Ok, ok, so you can tell I’m a fan? I am.  But here’s why: I have kids who tell me they are praying more, reading their Bibles more, and talking with their parents about faith more.  That’s so exciting! And… I even had a kid tell me they turned down a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese to come to church because it’s so fun.  I’m not kidding. Praise God!

By Rev. Carrie Antczak, Deacon



Thinking outside the box…

“I Don’t Have to Do What They’re Doing”

There are some people who make a difference in your life. For me, Eleanor Roosevelt has always been one of those people. She once said, “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” It’s that philosophy along with the scripture verse “let all that you do be done in love (1 Corinthians 16:14)” that guide my heart when planning Christian Education events. So, how do take the passion within your heart and use it to grow your Church? Simple. You don’t think outside of the box, you get rid of the box.

I’m a Christian Education Coordinator at an inner city Church. So, my issues may be different than yours. However, we all want to grow our Church. We all want to the opportunity to plant more seeds. So, when I said NO to vacation bible school, you can imagine the faces on my Christian Education Committee. What? No, vacation bible school. Gone!

Instead, we hosted an art camp that ran the week our local school district was on spring break. Art Camp uses music, song, visual arts and media, drama and storytelling, and movement and game-playing to enter into Bible study around a particular theme. This year’s theme was praise. The result? 5 times more kids then we had at vacation bible school last year.

How did we do it? I went and asked members of the congregation. You’ll be surprised at the discoveries you’ll make. It’s like digging for gold! I was pleasantly surprised at the talents that they were willing to share with the children and our community.

By not having a box, I was able to “define” art loosely. Who knew we had a mom that was a black belt? She gladly did a demonstration with the kids during our movement segment of the day. Let me tell you, they loved it! She brought her different belts and weapons to show the kids. She made it a memorable hands-on experience. We also had a dad teach an animal alphabet in American Sign Language for part of our visual arts segment. The kids couldn’t stop talking about it!

Every day was different. Every day was a surprise. They couldn’t wait to see what the new day brought. Don’t be afraid to try something new! What do you have to lose? Nothing! But, you have everything to gain. Let your heart and God’s grace guide you. If you do it out of love, you will be rewarded!

By: Brandy Draper, Christian Education Coordinator at First UMC of Akron

Safe Sanctuaries Videos

Are you looking for help with starting conversations around Safe Sanctuaries®?  The long-anticipated videos are now available on the Discipleship Ministries website.

Safe Sanctuaries® is a “social structure that is consistent with the gospel” (¶122) allowing our sanctuaries, classrooms, mission encounters, camps and retreats, and all spaces where we gather to worship and serve God to be places of trust. These videos may be used as a series to introduce the more difficult aspects of Safe Sanctuaries®, individually to open up conversations in small groups or during training, and as a way to share information with the congregation as a reminder or in the midst of a crisis.

Also, for local East Ohio congregations where streaming a video could be an issue, there is a DVD of these videos available in the East Ohio Conference Media Center.  You can contact Susan Arnold,  Media Specialist, at 330-499-3972 ext. 139 to schedule use of the DVD.|date&sortDirection=desc –

Getting Started…

The Conference Spiritual Formation and Christian Education Committee is launching a “Resources for the Journey” blog focused on “connecting people in United Methodist Churches with Wesleyan Education and Spiritual Formation resources.”   Our plan (and hope) is to post something new every week.   On alternating weeks, we will post one week focused on “tools for the journey” – pointing people towards resources available around the web – and the other week will be guest bloggers from East Ohio focused on “it worked for us” – sharing an experience that they had in their church, what they are doing that is working, what resources have been invaluable, etc.

Our hope is that between these two areas of focus, we will be giving folks working in spiritual formation in local congregations a place to find ideas and resources, as well as creating a network of folks serving in spiritual formation in East Ohio as we share ideas and support with each other.