10 Ingredients for a successful all-age small group

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Due to Covid, many churches have been looking creatively at how to meet together, and I’ve been  encouraged to see many groups considering more inter-generational ways of meeting together.

Recently, I heard of a small group looking at meeting with adults and children together once a month. As they discussed this, they realised they wouldn’t be able to do childrenswork in such a small group, so I thought I’d pop down so ideas of how this might work.

I like to think of an all-age gathering a bit like a party, and small group is kind of home-party size, and may well be held in a home! It definitely helps to imagine as great all-age gathering and use principles from it to design a gathering. So here’s my 10 ingredients for a successful all-age small group:

1 Chat together about what is core

It’s best to get ideas from adults and children about how they thinkg the all-age gathering could work. If possible, don’t start with the adult meeting format and adapt it, but work out what elements are essential (e.g. worship, Bible study or food) and create something new which will work for everyone.

2 Set expectations

It’s helpful to let people know what to expect before they come, as expectations have a strong impact on people’s experiences! Those who have been involved in designing the shape of the gathering will find it easiest to come along, so include as many people as possible in this part!

3 Meet somewhere with space

Gatherings with people of different ages together work best if there is space for people to stretch their legs, have a bit of quiet and/or run about a bit. Meeting in a home is definitely possible, but it helps to have two or three spaces within the home to use, including one where everyone can fit for a short ‘together time’, a bit like the part of a party where you sing happy birthday.

4 Ask for participation in preparing and planning

Most people prefer to have a bit of notice if they are to contribute. It’s good to ask people of different ages to contribute to things which everyone will take part it, be it making cakes, reading a Bible passage, sharing a favourite song of the Bible verse, sharing a story or bringing a fun game.

If possible, get these people to lead the bit they have brought. Some may need help with this, and it’s good for everyone to remember to address all of the group (adults and children) and to keep each part short.

When people prepare something to bring, it helps them start engaging with the event and the Bible passage or theme, which means they are likely to be more engaged in the gathering. They are also less likely to decide not to come at the last moment and they might bring people with them, knowing that at least one thing happening will be good (their bit!).

5 Have something to do as people arrive

I’ve always done this at parties, because it gets over the awkward arrivals bit, and children are rarely indulge in small talk! Keep it simple such as adding a picture of themselves to a big white board or piece of lining paper. Drink and snacks are usually a hit too.

6 If possible, include food

A meal is great, but at least have drinks and snacks! Gathering around a meal is one of the most authentic and organic ways to meet up. If you have people under 12, make sure you chat with their parents about a good time to have the meal, and also make sure there’s things the children will eat, as well as asking people about allergies and intolerances. Nothing says ‘we didn’t think about you’ louder than making a meal someone can’t eat!

7 Do something all together

You could pray, play a game and explore the Bible together. Whatever the core things are for your gathering, this is the place to do them. Just make sure you keep this section short, as this will help everyone keep engaged. Ten minutes might be a good target; fifteen if your game is truly fun! You could include a creative prayer or just a short, spoken prayer. There could be sung worship (pick a song everyone knows), a game (theme linked is optional – fun is essential!) and a Bible reading (this can be done by a volunteer, someone who’s prepared or in a creative way together, such as having actions to do when you hear two crucial words). I’ve found one of the most engaging ways to ‘read’ a reading is to learn it off by heart!

8 Do something optional with ‘stations for different types of activity

After the time together, give everyone a choice of what to do next to explore more or respond to what you’ve done. It’s helpful to do this with stations, but you might like to give people things in welcome packs to avoid cleaning resources.

It’s good to have a range of options, thinking about different learning and spiritual styles, including a quiet spot for thinking. Encourage adults to join in – this is for everyone, not just the children – and get people to look out for what they discover, learn or experience which they might want to share with the group afterwards. This is particularly important in an all-age setting, as sometimes adults think they can’t learn this way, as it’s not a talk. However, by setting out to look for ways in which they encounter the passage or sense God’s presence in a new way will help them value a different type of gathering.

9 Come back together

This is a good time to compare notes, giving people an opportunity to share something they’ve learned, discovered or experienced. If people tend to talk for too long, you can use a one minute sand timer or get them to hold a match and stop talking when it gets too close to their fingers (obviously more for teens and adults!). You could do a minute summary of what’s been shared and pray together. It’s good if you have a fun, creative way to prayer in which everyone can take part. (This may well be people’s lasting memory of the event.)

10 Have something people can take home or do again at home

If possible, do something which people can do again at home and/or something to take home to help them continue to explore, discover and experience connection with God through the week. This shouldn’t feel like homework, but an extension of what you’ve done which people engage with if they choose. For example, if you’ve looked at a particular passage, you could give everyone a link to a playlist of readings and songs of that passage for them to play during the week, and perhaps a question to ponder as they do so.

What would you add to this?