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An Experiment in Creating Parent Small Groups

This fall, we launched an experiment as a NextGen team. We’ve been wrestling with what it looks like for us to better partner with parents—to move beyond handouts and to work together. For us this has resulted in a small group experiment.

For the past several months, our NextGen staff has been working on a small group experience for parents. With the support of our leadership and adult ministry, our children’s and student ministry is taking the lead on adult small groups targeted at parents. For kids and student ministry people, I often describe it as taking the large group/small group model we see with kids and teenagers and creating that same kind of experience for adults.

There’s a lot of practical questions that could probably be helpful for you that might be worth talking through, but I want to give you some of the “What if?” questions that create this all.

What if we removed as many possible barriers to getting a parent connected to other parents?

As a parent, I’ve tried the small group thing and it’s hard. Coordinating schedules, figuring out dinner, messing up the bedtime routine, paying babysitters, and finding a house for hosting it is a nightmare. If I wasn’t a staff person, I would’ve given up on small groups a long time ago.

For a long time when I’ve thought about small groups or when I’ve been taught about creating a small group environment, the go-to place has always been a house. But as a team, we began wondering—what if we could actually utilize some of our existing structure (a midweek program and our building) to help make it easier for parents to be in small groups?

Perhaps the church building would be less cozy but more convenient. Maybe it would be helpful to make a particular night (Wednesdays for us) the night where we get parents in groups and make it easy to do so. Maybe we could even do things like provide dinner so that parents didn’t have to worry about it. And maybe it not being at somebody’s house would take away the stress of coordinating a clean space to meet at. Maybe a great program for kids would help parents not stress about coordinating childcare (or be interrupted 17 times in the course of a small group discussion).

What if we connected every parent to another parent in a similar phase?

As we began to move from dreaming to determining how we would structure groups, the phases became a clear way to connect parents. Preschool parents need to know other preschool parents. Parents of teenagers need to find other parents of teenagers who are experiencing what they’re experiencing. Single parents need to know and find other single parents.

Every parent has moments where they feel isolated and alone, and we can help them find other parents who are in the same phase they are in.

What if we gave every parent their own small group leader?

We often talk about wanting every kid and teenager to have a consistent adult in their life. We want them to have an adult who shows up consistently, mentally, and randomly to build relationships and make an impact.

What if adults had the same thing?

What if every week a parent knew there was somebody who cared about them? What if during the course of a week parents had somebody who reached out to them and let them know they were praying for them? What if when they were gone for a couple of weeks, they had someone who missed them? What if they had a leader who was listening to them so that they could find the resources and help they needed when they needed it?

A consistent adult isn’t something that only kids need. It’s something we all need.

What if we set up small group leaders for parents to do what only they can do?

This is one of the things that we began to discover as we started to test out the groups. We actually did a four-week, soft launch before our public launch of the parent small group experience. We quickly learned that by taking away some of the typical offsite small group leader responsibilities, we were setting up small group leaders to do the things we wanted them to do even better.

Our small group leaders for parents don’t have to plan curriculum, they don’t have to coordinate schedules, they don’t have to clean a house or get the snacks. They simply choose to lead small, to do for their few what they wish they could for everyone.

By not being administrators, our small group leaders are better set up to be better encouragers.
By not being teachers, our small group leaders are better set up to have better conversation.
By not being the planners, our small group leaders have more time to invest relationally.
By not being the writers, our small group leaders can give more energy to make it personal.

What if we set up small groups for parents that aligned with our strategy for kids and teenagers?

Once we knew that we wanted to create our own scope and sequence for our parent small groups, we also began to think about what might it look like if that scope and sequence strategically aligned with what is good for our kids and teenagers? For example, we have made phase nights a part of our scope. Throughout the year there are certain key nights where small groups will engage in a conversation about technological responsibility, authentic faith, and sexual integrity. Not only, though, do those conversations happen but they happen when it makes the most sense to happen.

Our small groups will be talking about technology in December, right before their kids have a likelihood of having new devices introduced into their home. Small groups will have conversations about sexual integrity in March, the same time that all of our high school and middle school students will also be talking about sexual integrity.

An aligned strategy actually sets up those groups with an easy way for all of those parents to be on the same page and for conversations that will help all of those parents be more intentional.

What might this look like if it works?

We still have a lot of unanswered questions about what this all will look like. We don’t know what we don’t know about this kind of experience. We don’t know what we’ll do if we run out of space. We don’t know what we’ll do to transform classroom spaces to make them more warm and friendly for a small group. We don’t know what this looks like after one year, two years, or even three years. We don’t know how this might impact our volunteers.

But here’s what we think:

We think it will help parents be more connected to their faith community.
We think it will help parents know that they’re not alone.
We think it will help parents be more encouraged, more known, and more loved.
We think it will help all parents, regardless of their faith, become better parents.
We think it will help parents be more intentional with their time.

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