5 Ways to Partner With Parents as a Small Group Leader

A couple weeks ago I was honored to speak to the amazing preschool ministry volunteers at Park Valley Church. The topic I was asked to speak on was How to Partner With Preschool Parents as a Small Group Leader. Here are the 5 points I shared, that I believe apply to partnering with all parents regardless of their kid’s ages.

Show Up Every Week

I think the first step in partnering with parents is to show up every week. Imagine what it’s like to be a new family coming to church. You don’t know where to go. You don’t know if you’ll fit in. You don’t know if it will be weird. You don’t know what “children’s ministry” is. You don’t know if you should trust them with your kids.

Now, imagine your church does everything right. You make that family feel welcome. You instantly build trust with the parent and help them check their children in. They attend the service and their preschooler does well in your kid’s ministry. It’s a big win. But, what if they come back next week and… there’s a totally different group of people there to welcome their child to the room. Most of the trust that was built up is gone instantly.

It’s a big win. But, what if they come back next week and… there’s a totally different group of people there to welcome their child. Most of the trust that was built up is gone instantly.

Showing up every week allows us to establish the trust that preschool parents are looking for. Showing up every week gives us more opportunities to connect. The caveat here is if you have one service. With one service, you can’t expect people to serve every week. In that case, build a rotation and put more effort into the rest of this list. 

Initiate Contact

Showing up every week is a great start, but it’s just the beginning. At some point, we must initiate contact with the parents. I don’t mean the simple hello and exchange that happens as they drop off and pick up. I mean the type of contact that can be the first step toward a relationship. That may happen when parents are there to drop off and pick up, or that time might be too crazy for anything meaningful to happen.

Instead of using that time, start by sending then an email. Get a list of families and their contact information from your point leader and send an email to introduce yourself. Brag on their child and ask how you can pray for their family.

A partnership is just a relationship and a relationship starts with an initial contact.

Say Something Encouraging

Parenting is hard.

Like, real hard. Most parents feel like failures most of the time. There are many reasons why, but unrealistic expectations and a false idea of what it’s like for other parents is part of it. As a small group leader, and overall as a church, we should be the chief encouragers to parents. Make it a point to notice something about a kid each week. Then, tell the parent when they pick their child up. Praise the parent for anything you can think of. Be genuine, though.

Barbara Graves wrote a great post on the Lead Small blog with specific ideas about this.

Help Their Kids LOVE Church

FUN is the language of kids. When we make church fun, we partner with parents by helping them lead their kids to love being part of the local church. Our son, Isaac (3yrs old), loves our church. He loves his preschool room too. He talks about it during the week and is excited to go each weekend. However, like many kids, sometimes he gets in a mood where he doesn’t like anything. He was in one of those moods a few Sundays ago. He didn’t want go in his room.

You know what? The leaders in that room instantly recognized what was going on and engaged with him. They know what he likes and they invited him to join in and play. Before I knew it, he went from clinging to me to pretending like I was never there.

Help kids love church by knowing their name, making them feel welcome, and leaving them wanting more each week.

Meet A Felt Need

This isn’t something you can do early on. In fact, you probably have no idea what needs families have until you’ve known them for some time. Think of the previous four ideas as prerequisites for this one. If you have initiated contact and established a relationship, at some point there’s a good chance that you’ll discover something the family needs.

It could be prayers for something specific, meals when a newborn comes along, a hospital visit, or a number of other opportunities. Don’t miss the chance to serve them in their time of need and don’t miss the chance to develop the kind of partnership that affords you that opportunity.

What has worked for your Small Group Leaders?

What are some ways your small group leaders have successfully partnered with parents? Share them in the comments section below.

Family / NextGen Ministry Survey 2016


Survey Closed – See Results Here:


I’m interested in helping churches and church leaders reach their full potential. Like most of you, the majority of the leaders I get to work and collaborate with lead in family ministry. It’s why most of the posts I write here on the blog are written to that audience.

In order to better understand family ministry leaders I created a short 10-question survey I’m hoping you will take. The incentive is that everyone who takes the survey will be entered for a chance to win a FREE ticket to the 2016 Orange Conference.

Step 1

The survey is now closed. See results here.

Step 2

Share this with other family ministry leaders on social media so we can have greater input which = more helpful information.

Important Details

This survey will be open for a little over a month, at which point it will close and the winner will be chosen randomly from those who filled it out.

Please note, people who subscribe to my blog get 2 entries and were told about it in advance. You can take advantage of that as well if you’d like. Simply subscribe using the form on my site and when the survey closes I’ll add an extra entry for everyone who is in the subscriber list.

Thanks for your input!

P.S. If you took it, what else should I have asked?

Coffee Talk: A Simple Way to Connect Parents & Small Group Leaders

In the previous two posts I wrote about our 4-Part Strategy for Partnering With Parents and The BEST Partnership We Have With Parents, which is small group leaders. Since small group leaders are the best partnership we have with parents, we want to invest in cultivating that relationship. We have done that through a variety of ways, including using the excellent Small Group Leader + Parent Breakfast Kit resource from Kenny & Elle’s Stuff You Can Use store to host an event like that.

Small Group Leaders & Parents of Students

In our student ministry, we kick off each school year with a Launch Party where parents and students are invited to attend. Parents get to meet and interact with their student’s small group leaders. The Launch Party and Small Group Leader + Parent Breakfasts are great, but we were also looking for another option we could pull off using less money and less time.

Coffee Talk

Our Student Pastor had the great idea of hosting a Coffee Talk. The premise is simple. Our student ministry environments take place on Sunday evenings from 5:30-7:30pm. Middle school and high school are separate, but take place at the same time. Coffee Talk takes place before, at 5pm, and runs a little bit into the normal programming (ending at 5:45pm). Our goal is to do them 3-4 times each school year. The key is we’re only asking parents to come out a little earlier than normal, and a time when they would already be out.

We set up the environment with tables and assign our small group leaders to specific tables or sections. Coffee and other beverages are available and parents and small group leaders connect during the first half of Coffee Talk. During the second half we gather everyone together and share some quick news and updates. Then, we provide parents with some type of resource that meets a need they have as parents of teens. It could be a sample cell phone contract, or, like the first one we held, we may cast a vision for the importance of students serving in ministry.

It’s been a successful initiative that’s fairly easy to pull off. I’m grateful our Student Pastor values connecting with parents and thinks outside the box to come up with new ways to do that.

How do you connect parents and small group leaders?

We’re always looking for new ways to partner with parents, so I’d love to hear what you do. Comment below and share the goodness.

3 Keys to Maintaining & Improving a #LeadSmall Culture in Family Ministry

leadsmallcultureIn two posts last week I wrote about what #LeadSmall is and 4 questions to help you #LeadSmall in your family ministry. Making small groups the foundation of your children’s and student ministry is no easy task, but I believe it is the best way to minister to kids and students. The book Creating a Lead Small Culture is a great resource for making that shift, and in that book the authors suggest 1-2 years to make the transition, followed by a never-ending time of improvement.

3 Keys to Maintaining & Improving a #LeadSmall Culture in Family Ministry

Once we have established a culture of small groups, how do we maintain and improve upon it? Here are 3 keys we have found to be crucial in maintaining and improving small groups for kids and students.

Remove everything that competes with small groups

Just like with adults, there is a difference between a family ministry of small groups and a family ministry with small groups. Making small groups the foundation of our ministries requires removing anything that competes with that. Examples might include:

  • Sunday School or other programming that takes place during children’s ministry and pulls potential volunteers away.
  • Student ministry large group experiences that take the place of small groups.
  • Additional Sunday night or mid-week programming if it pulls away potential leaders.
  • Too many events that compete for time from staff, volunteers and families.
  • Staff hours dedicated to something other than small groups.

Transitioning to a #LeadSmall approach in family ministry may require making some hard choices. What choices do you have to make?

Develop a training system

Small group leaders are the pastors to kids and students in our ministries. They are on the front lines, in their lives, investing the most. We should train them accordingly. We currently have a specific training plan for children’s ministry volunteers and student ministry volunteers. One of the conversations we’ve been having is about creating a separate training system for small group leaders. How do you regularly train and develop small group leaders?

Invest in them like you want them to invest in their few

Our leadership structure includes a Coach role, which is a volunteer role dedicated to leading a group of leaders. Most Coaches lead a team of children’s ministry or student ministry small group leaders. We define the win for that role as:

Your few are cared for and equipped to invest in their few

The “do for a few” language comes from the Lead Small book and we want it to be common language in our family ministry. If we don’t invest in our small group leaders how can we expect them to invest in their few? We have a lot of room to improve in this area and that’s a big focus for us this year. What do you need to do to invest in your small group leaders more?

What keys have you found to be critical in maintaining a small group culture in family ministry?

4 Questions to Help You #LeadSmall in Family Ministry

leadsmallmugIn this post I wrote about what Lead Small is and shared some insights from studies done on the teenage brain that point to the need for students to be relationally connected. I also mentioned that I believe every church should have a consistent small group with a weekly leader for kids age 3 up through high school. I know from experience that it is a huge, but it’s worth it.

From Kid in Small Group to Small Group Leader

A student in our high school ministry is in 10th grade this year. Her family began coming to our church when she was in elementary school. In talking about her experience as an elementary kid, she said she loved her time in elementary because of her small group leaders. She said she had trust issues as a child, but her leaders helped her see that people do love her, care for her, want what’s best for her. As a result, she opened up to them and had great conversations that helped her along in life.

She named all the people that made an impact in her life, even a couple leaders who weren’t her small group leader but still knew and cared for her. As a middle school student she began serving as an assistant small group leader in elementary. This year, she will lead her own small group and I’m really excited for her, because she will provide for her group of girls what others are providing for her.

That is one story of many we have experienced from our effort to lead small.

4 Questions to Help You Lead Small

These 4 questions are ones we had to answer as we have attempted to Lead Small in family ministry since our church was started in 2006. I hope they can help you transition to lead small or improve your small group strategy as we are attempting to do.

Why do you believe in Lead Small?

You may not, yet. Read Lead Small Culture and Lead Small and see if you do. If you do, however, you’ll need to know why. You can’t cast a vision for Lead Small until you can clearly articulate why your ministry needs to lead small. People care a lot more about why than they do about what and how (see Simon Sinek talk about it at TED).

Who is the primary champion of lead small in your ministry?

Hint: it should be you. Whether you’re the Preschool Director, Student Pastor, NextGen Pastor, or another role in family ministry, you should be the primary champion of lead small in your ministry. If you lead student ministry, you should be the primary champion of lead small with students. If you are a large group director for elementary, you should be the one who champions small group and makes sure everything you do in large group sets up small group leaders for great conversation.

If your structure includes a Family Pastor or NextGen Pastor, that person should be the biggest champion of Lead Small because it must start at the top. It’s not just about being a champion either, it’s about accountability and ensuring Lead Small is happening. Does that mean you have to specifically manage it? No, which leads to the next question.

Who is responsible to lead small group leaders at each age level?

While everyone should champion lead small, somebody has to specifically lead and care for small group leaders in each environment. That could be you. It could be a team of volunteer coaches who lead small group leaders. It could be a part-time staff person. All of that will depend on your church size and staff/volunteer structure. But, we can’t effectively create a lead small culture for kids and students if we’re not doing the same thing for their leaders.

How will you get weekly small group leaders?

Creating a consistent small group experience for kids and students requires a weekly presence in their lives. The time commitment from the leader increases as kids get older, but a weekly commitment is the starting point. Taking a break in summer is a good way to help them refresh and create new momentum in the fall.

Will you lose volunteers if you transition to every week? Probably.

There’s no way around that. You’re raising the bar and some people won’t meet the new expectation. A lot of children’s ministries have volunteers serve every other week. But, think of it this way, you just need half of them to make that commitment to maintain your current ratio. If you have 40 bi-weekly leaders you only have 20 in the environment each week. So, if 20 of 40 quit, and 20 stick, you are right where you left off and more lead small. You’ll want to develop a plan beginning with how to cast the vision (A LOT) all the way to making the move.

Need Help Transitioning to #LeadSmall?

The Lead Small Culture book outlines a transition plan that includes 7 steps over 2 stages, with a third stage focused on never-ending improvement. I highly recommend that book to help you make the transition. If you need more guided assistance, I’d love to help. Just contact me and let me know.