5 Tips For Navigating Detours with Your Group
One of the hardest things about leading a group of kids is keeping them on track. Every single weekend you know the clock is ticking. You never have enough time to get through all of your curriculum. When you sit down to lead your activity, you sometimes feel like you’re wrangling a group of caffeinated squirrels.
At every turn your kids are ready to derail your discussion and take the conversation in a totally different direction than the lesson is supposed to go. Sometimes these detours are kids sharing their hearts. Other times, it’s kids just being kids.
The bottom line is that detours are not always a bad thing.
Last summer, I took my wife and daughters out to pick strawberries at a local orchard. We had driven several miles through the country when we came to a huge barricade blocking the road. “Road Closed” signs made it clear that we would not be continuing any farther.
I couldn’t believe they didn’t have a sign up by the highway five miles back. To make it worse, I didn’t see a single detour sign, but had to meander around the back roads finding my own way.
In the end, though, it was an incredible drive. We saw some gorgeous countryside and a couple of old houses filled with character and charm.
Best of all, we had an adventure and were forced to explore uncharted territory as a family.
The secret to being a truly great kids’ leader is learning how to navigate uncharted territory with your kids. Here are five tips to help you make the most of detours in your group.
1. Pray your way through it.
Throughout your group time, be praying. Ask God to help you know when to listen and when to speak. Ask Him to help you take advantage of teachable moments. Ask Him who needs extra attention. Pray that He would lead the discussion and help kids feel loved.
2. Set some ground rules.
Sometimes detours are simply a lack of group discipline. Kids need to know that you are the leader. When you’re talking, they need to show you respect by listening. They also need to respect the other kids by listening when they are speaking in your group. If you have a child who is consistently hijacking your group time, deal with them (with firm kindness, of course).
3. Give yourself permission to not finish every activity.
Begin your group time by reminding yourself that the curriculum is not your master. Jesus is. You’re there to help kids fall in love with Jesus and follow Him. You win by helping kids know Him, not by finishing your lesson. It’s all about relationships.
4. Learn to distinguish between significant detours and rabbit trails.
Some detours result from kids needing to share what’s going on in their hearts. They may need prayer. They may just be wrestling with a faith issue or a tough circumstance in their lives. This may or may not match up with the topic of the day’s lesson. That’s okay. Those are the good detours. Some days you may have to take the bulk of your time to address one child’s situation. That’s okay, too. The other kids in the group will grow from this experience as much as finishing the lesson.
Other detours come from kids who are chatterboxes or who just want to steal the show. Those are bad detours. Keep control of the group by referring back to the ground rules or calling kids out as needed.
5. Be intentional about landing the plane.
Once the teachable moment is over, ask the Holy Spirit to help you tie up the loose ends. Restate the most important take-away from your group time that day. You may say something like, “Wow, it was really cool that Megan shared about her grandma like that. That’s a great reminder that God wants us to pray for our friends just like we did here today. We can talk to God about anything.”
At the end of the day, leading a group is an adventure. If you trust God and stay open to His leading, He will take you and your kids down some amazing roads.