Not a member yet? Register now and get started.

lock and key

Sign in to your account.

Account Login

Forgot your password?

3 Tips for Behavior Issues in Small Groups

25 Oct Student Ministry | Comments Off on 3 Tips for Behavior Issues in Small Groups
3 Tips for Behavior Issues in Small Groups

Starting Out Well…

Working with students is not something to be taken lightly. It is full of high’s and low’s and the emotional extremes of students can feel like a roller coaster ride. One moment your group is praying and singing Kum-ba-ya and the next they are ready to burn down the building. And student ministry is found somewhere in between all of that. The reality is that we can’t ignore behavioral issues and only “hoping to contain it” feels a bit defeating to even the most experienced leader. While we will never, ever have groups where every student behaves perfectly, there are a few tips we can learn along the way to help make the experience more conducive for respect and good behavior.



Environment is everything when it comes to leading a group. It can set the tone right away as to whether the group will be tracking with you or all over the map.

1. Find an environment that is free from visual distraction.

This may be difficult to do but the more visual distraction there is the more checked-out students may become. This doesn’t mean going into a cold, sterile room but you can’t expect to sit down by a bunch of TV’s that have Xbox playing on them and still have your students pay attention.

2. Find a comfortable environment.

If students are sitting on concrete floors, it won’t take long for them to fidget to the point of frustration. Grab pillows, go and find chairs, circle up some couches, or whatever else you can to make it comfortable.

3. Find a quieter environment.

This one is even more important than the visual distraction. If your students can’t hear you speaking, or have to work hard at it, and they can’t hear the others in the group speaking, they will check out really quickly. Of course there will always be noise when you are in student ministry environments so a completely silent place will be hard to find. But once again, sitting under a speaker or PA system is setting yourself up for failure.



There are several things that are key for engaging students. If we don’t take some of these seriously we can’t blame the students for checking out.

1. Sit in a circle.

This is the best way for you to have eye contact with a student when needed.

2. Sit beside the student who may be more inclined to disruption.

This allows you to whisper to them if needed so that you don’t embarrass them. You can also reach over and give them a slight touch sending a non-verbal cue for them to quiet down or allow someone else to speak.

3. Make sure that every student is heard from at least once during small group time.

The longer a student goes without having to engage the group, the more likely they are to check out, get distracted, or become a distraction.


Encourage Expectations

Students want to know boundaries and what is expected of them during the small group experience. Take time frequently to encourage students in what those expectations are and how to live them out.

1. Start each small group time by reinforcing the expectations.

You might want to start each small group experience by saying something like, “Okay guys, let’s remember what we are about here. We will not speak when others are speaking so that we show respect. And what is said here stays here. Can we all agree to those two things?” It’s that simple. What this enables you to do is set the tone right away as to the seriousness of your time together. It also enables you to call out a student who doesn’t follow through on those expectations they just agreed to. We know this sounds simple but we promise you it works.

2. Keep the expectations simple and memorable.

Don’t give students a list of 7 rules or expectations. Notice that the ones listed above were two simple expectations. Keep them short, simple, and memorable. And then repeat, repeat, repeat. Say them at EVERY time you begin small group. Say them until you and your students get tired of hearing them.

3. Celebrate the ones who live out the expectations.

When you see someone give respect, or listen closely to another, or hold their tongue so they don’t interrupt, publically celebrate it. Call it out and make heroes of the ones living out the values.


Enforce Expectations

This is where you simply must lead. While enforcing the rules of respect may seem a bit parental it is absolutely necessary in creating group dynamics that aren’t disrespectful.

1. Call out the one who is breaking expectations.

Of course this should always be done with grace and love. But you will lose credibility as a leader if you say that your group will be about a certain expectation and you don’t address the student who is breaking that expectation. You may need to say something like, “Billy, real quick, you just interrupted James and I just want to remind you that a minute ago you agreed to not speaking while others are speaking. Okay? Now James what were you saying?”

2. We all can benefit from a “timeout” now and then.

If a student is repeatedly breaking expectations or is belligerent during the group, it is perfectly acceptable to ask them to step outside and wait for you until small group is over. Then address it individually with them. Sometimes you need to remove the distraction altogether.

3. In the end, don’t show them the door; show them a better seat.

Once you have repeatedly addressed a student who is working against your group, at that point it is time to talk to your youth pastor. Fill them in on the issues at work and they will work with you to formulate what the next steps should be. It might involve switch groups or directing the student to another program within your ministry. You don’t want to send the message “There is no place for you here” but you may need to send the message “This small group isn’t the best place for where you’re at right now. Let’s find the place here that is.”

Jason Mitchell
Campus Pastor at LCBC Church
Jason is a Campus Pastor at LCBC Church (Lives Changed By Christ). He loves taking runs, drinking coffee, listening to all things rock and roll, and spending time with his wife Jenny and their two kids, Sienna and Silas.