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4 Budget-Friendly Ways to Invest in Your Small Group Outside of Programming

When you think about the main goal of a small group leader, what are some things that immediately come to your mind? Would it be to give a great review of the Bible lesson they learned in large group? Creating activities and experiences that help your small group apply the biblical principles they learned to their everyday lives? Maybe it’s taking the time to make sure each and every kid and teen in your small group had a chance to speak or participate. Of course, all of those things are incredibly important…but they all have the capacity for a bigger impact when we have a personal relationship with our small group.

When we’re reviewing our Bible story with our group, there’s more of a chance that they’ll pay attention and listen to what we say if they trust that what we say is true. Those activities and experiences could have even more meaning when you as a small group leader interact with the group and have fun with them, too. And your kids and teens may be more willing to speak their minds if they know you’ll actually listen to what they say. Everything we do as a small group leader is amplified when we are able to build personal connections with each kid or teen in our group.

Think about it – as an SGL you not only get to have a front-row seat as they begin to build a relationship with Jesus, but you also get to be there for all the belly laughs, thoughtful questions, and friendship-building that happens along the way. You get to be a friend, mentor, teacher, and coach, not just when you meet as a small group, but by intentionally connecting throughout the entire week. Your influence isn’t limited to just the lesson you give, but in the way you are able to connect with every kid and teen in your group.

But building that kind of connection isn’t always easy, is it? Especially when we know that the connections we make outside of our typical small group time are just as important as the connections we make during small group. For a lot of us, we may not have the budget that we would want to be able to take a teen to breakfast or treat our whole small group to ice cream during an outing at a local park. If we’re really being honest, while we have time to dedicate to our small group during the typical meeting time, the rest of our week is taken up by work commitments, time spent with family, and life chores that never seem to end.

So here are some budget-friendly (and time-friendly!) suggestions to help make meaningful connections with our small groups throughout the week. 

1) Create Spotify Playlists

You can learn a lot about a person just by listening to all of the different styles of music they connect with the most. Encourage your small group kids and teens to create a personalized Spotify playlist of all their favorite songs (though it’s probably a pretty good idea to set some ground rules about what is and is not appropriate to put on their playlist). Of course, if your small group is made up of younger kids, you may want to enlist parents to lend a helping hand. And don’t forget to make up a playlist of your own as well! Connection is a two-way street, and the kids and teens want to get to know you just as much as you want to get to know them.

Now, be warned – not all of the music will be good. There’s actually a pretty big chance that you will not like a single song they’ve picked for their lists. But man, those songs will tell you so much. As you listen, try to think beyond just the song and look for what may be hidden underneath. Is there a particular artist that they’ve included more than others? Can you see a connection between one song and another? Use these playlists to help give you a glimpse of a side to themselves that they may not show you on a typical Sunday.

2) Go Retro with Snail Mail

Sometimes I think we as adults have forgotten that amazing feeling you get when you receive a piece of mail meant especially for you. I’m not talking about a bill (boo), or a generic card where you know everyone received the same exact typed message, but something that was specifically handwritten with you in mind. That letter has the ability to say so much, even before someone reads a single word. It says that someone not only thought about you, but took the time to write words down, find an envelope (who even has envelopes anymore?), buy a stamp, and put it in the mailbox just so that they could say something special to you.

Of course, I’m not saying that you should send a personalized card or letter to every single one of your small group members each week! But, I also don’t want you to wait and only send those cards or letters after a big event like a baptism or church retreat. The power of a card or letter is at its peak when it comes on a random day for absolutely no reason at all. Start small and send one or two a week, or take a long weekend to write out a batch to send out as you see fit. These are also great for continuing connections with kids or teens you haven’t seen for a while. 

3) Show Up to What is Important to Them

Growing up, I was never the “sporty-ist” of kids. Sure, I was on a softball team for a few years, but a future major league player I was not. Instead, what I really loved was all things musical theatre. I loved to sing, did my best to try and dance, and finally made it as a background character in a community theatre production. Of course, I knew my family was going to come to my performance…they were my ride, after all. But I can’t tell you the joy I felt when I was performing on stage and looked out to see members of my church in the audience. I may have still stumbled through the dance numbers, but I don’t think I have ever been as happy on a stage as I was then.

So many of our small group kids and teens have hobbies and skills they’d love to share with you. Some may have a baseball tournament you can attend, others a local musical they’ve won a part in, or a local art show where they’ve submitted some of their work. But showing up isn’t limited to just attending things that they DO. What about going to the movies with kids in your group who are really into a certain superhero franchise? Or walking around (and maybe even pushing the cart) in a garden center with teens who have jumped on the houseplant craze. Take the time to find out the kinds of activities or hobbies your small group kids and teens are interested in, and then do your best to show up whenever and however you can.

4) Connect with Their Families

What’s the real secret to finding ways to connect with our kids and teens outside of our small group time? Connecting with their families. In a world where the news cycle gives us an endless stream of negative and downright terrifying stories, it’s natural for parents and families to want to hold their kids and teens as close as possible, and maybe be a bit distrustful of adults who want to spend time with them. Instead of competing with families for influence over kids and teens, it makes so much more sense to partner with them instead. To show parents and families that we want to be teammates when it comes to connecting with their kids, and to help be another voice in their child’s life.

With families all being so different, there probably isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to connect. Some parents would appreciate a phone call introduction, while others would be happy to keep it over text. If direct communication never works out quite the way you hoped, you could also send out a monthly newsletter to all your parents, letting them know all the ways you’re working to connect with their kids. It’s also a great place to ask if there are any potential upcoming events that they would love to see you attend. If one method doesn’t work, don’t give up, just keep trying more to see what could stick. The only wrong move here would be to not reach out at all!

I hope those were some fun, simple suggestions that can help get you started! Just keep in mind that relationships are built over time. One playlist may not make you the top influencer in a child or teen’s life, but it can be one big step towards helping them see you as an adult who not only loves them but who wants to know them too. 

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