In 2006 I was asked to do something that I thought would end my career as a small-group pastor: I was asked to kill the current women's ministry of the church and move all the women involved into small groups. As a man, I was certain I was toast!
Fortunately, God was gracious and we saw amazing growth as a result of this transition. And I learned quite a bit about women's small groups along the way. With my wife, I'd like to talk about two of the biggest challenges women's small groups face: childcare and cliques.
Knowing what to do with the kids can be a challenge for women's groups because many of them will be made up of stay-at-home moms and single moms. It's critical for groups to decide up front how they will handle childcare. SmallGroups.com has a great article called "The Childcare Checklist" that will help your group navigate the childcare conversation. In addition, here are some ideas we used at LifeChurch.tv that you can discuss with your group.
- Meet when the kids are busy. Get together at local coffee shops, bookstores, or the park when the kids are in school.
- Meet during naptime. Buy some nap mats and have the kids all take their naps together in another room.
- Coordinate help from teens. If you meet during the day, arrange for a home-schooled teenager to come to the host home to watch the children, or check with your youth group for volunteers for evening meetings.
- Contact local colleges. Many have information on students interested in childcare.
- Drop-in or hourly childcare centers. See if there are any childcare centers in your area that allow parents to drop off their children on an hourly basis.
- Use two homes. If one home doesn't have enough room for you to meet and have the children in a separate space, use two. Drop the kids off at one group member's house with a sitter or volunteer from the group and have the group gathering at another home a few blocks away.
Bring them with you. This is a wonderful way for children to see their moms living their faith. Here are some ideas for having kids present with your women's group:
- Have a signup sheet so that group members can take turns watching the kids during your group.
- Encourage children to participate in a short time of singing and a scriptural thought or question specifically for them. Then take their prayer requests and pray with them before dismissing them to play or do another activity.
- Have a designated play area with toys and learning centers.
- Tape butcher paper over a kitchen table and let children color on the table with markers or crayons. (Don't use permanent markers or markers that bleed.)
- Provide them with snacks.
- Show a short movie or a TV show in another room.
- Give children a craft to do during your meeting.
- Have a treasure box to reward positive behavior throughout the meeting. At the end of the meeting, children can pick something out of the box.
These are simply ideas, only limited by your own imaginations. So be creative and don't allow the beautiful children God has blessed you with to be used as an excuse. Yes, it can be a challenge, but don't let it be an obstacle. Talk to other women's group leaders and share ideas. Not addressing childcare up front guarantees conflict and misunderstanding later. Determine what works best for you by looking over this Childcare Checklist and the suggestions above.
Cliquing and Clicking
Cliques are not just a middle school phenomenon. They can be a big problem in women's small groups. But cliques are not intrinsically bad. God created people to gather and group. We naturally like spending time with people like us. In the small-group world we call it the "homogeneity receptivity principle." That simply means that people are receptive to others that are like them. People bond more closely with some and less closely with others. In other words: human beings are naturally cliquish.
Again, cliques can actually be good. We've all heard people say, "We just really clicked." That's modern slang derived from the word clique. When people "click" they are hitting it off, and they feel a deep connection. God created us this way, so when people click it's a beautiful thing!
One of Satan's sneakiest strategies is to take God's beautiful creations and pervert them. Cliques are no exception. Satan wishes to distort them and make them ugly and divisive. Cliques in small groups can be very harmful when someone feels left out. Of all places in the world, God wants small groups to be a safe place where everyone can experience his love by "clicking" with others.
Let's categorize the connections formed within a small group as "cliquing" when they have a negative effect, dividing the group and alienating people. Let's call the connections "clicking" when they have a positive effect, bringing unity, safety, and encouragement.
|"Cliquing" Characteristics||"Clicking" Characteristics|
|Don't know where you stand||Always know where you stand|
Ways to Help Your Group "Click"
- Welcome All Newcomers. This may seem obvious, but it's easy to neglect new people when you're catching up with your best friend.
- Sit with Someone New. This means I shouldn't always sit with my best friend. Instead, intentionally sit by new people or people you know less well. When this behavior is demonstrated, it will be imitated by others in the group.
- Communicate with Everyone. When an e-mail goes out, make sure everyone gets it. Ask group members to "reply to all" with group e-mails so everyone is in on the conversation. If you don't want multiple e-mails in your inbox, consider setting up a private Facebook page for your group where you can share with each other.
- Group outside the group. Encourage the ladies in your group to get together for extra activities like going to dinner, watching a movie, going shopping, or meeting for tea. They should be inclusive as often as possible so everyone in the group is able to form new bonds.
- Remember birthdays and anniversaries. Keeping a calendar with birthdays (even kids' birthdays) and anniversaries is a great way to show that you care. Sending a note or a small gift makes people feel loved and remembered. However, make sure to use this information if you are going to ask for it. It's terrible to ask someone for their birth date and then not remember them on that day.
- Ask everyone to help. Try to include everyone in helping with the group in some way. An easy way is to ask group members to bring the snack for your meeting. Don't put people on the spot, though. Instead create a signup sheet that allows people to sign up as they feel comfortable.
Keep in mind that it's okay if your group doesn't "click" right away, but it's never okay if your group "cliques." Not everyone is going to click with your group; they may even decide another group is a better fit for them. Just make sure that you keep all communication lines open and ask people who leave why. If they leave because they just didn't click, that's okay. But if they leave because your group is a clique then you have some issues to work out.
—Alan and Stacey Danielson. This article is adapted from Alan's blog; used with permission.