Book Review - The Art Of Group Talk: How To Lead Better Conversations with Kids

"In small group, your destination isn't KNOWLEDGE. That's what the teaching is for.  In small group, your destination is APPLICATION. That's what your conversation is for."

"In small group, your destination isn't KNOWLEDGE. That's what the teaching is for.

In small group, your destination is APPLICATION. That's what your conversation is for."

Because before a kid can know God, they may need to be known by someone who knows God.
— The Art of Group Talk pg. 76

I just finished The Art of Group Talk: How to Lead Better Conversations With Kids after returning from #OC17 (Orange Conference) and I could not be more satisfied with what the book had to offer. If you have been a follower of the Orange strategy regarding small groups, which they call Tribes, then the content will be very familiar to you and almost sound like a repeating voice. This is what I have come to really appreciate from the Lead Small material, the content and strategy when it comes to implementing a small group mentality in your ministry.

Their first offering was Lead Small and it was the core content of the small group strategy that was considered essential in reaching kids and students not just with Biblical content, but by growing meaningful relationships with those in your small group.

The second book was Creating a Lead Small Culture and this took the core strategy and broke it down so a leader could see how to make the necessary tweaks to their ministry to implement the strategy. It was a great resource to use with core leaders who help shape the culture of your ministry. There was a great reading group and discussion guide that also helped take the content and personalize it for your ministry. I posted about this discussion guide here:

Book Study: Starting Over

The Art of Group Talk: How to Lead Better Conversations With Kids, shares with small group leaders how the strategy plays out in the conversations and the culture of your small group. It points to the importance of knowing your tribe so that life is shared and kids feel safe. It is a quick read, but the resulting change and comfort for small group leaders is worth the time.

Because before a kid can ENGAGE in a life of authentic faith, they may need you to ENGAGE them in a conversation about authentic faith.
— The Art Of Group Talk pg. 85

What I enjoyed about the book is that it states that the current phase of a child is just a piece in their development and that leaders need to be aware that development and growth in a child must be viewed from a larger context. Yes, what you do each week matters but it is what all these weeks add up to over time that shapes who a child becomes.

You’re a small group leader. So your destination isn’t just to help them learn or remember what they’ve heard from the stage. Your destination is to help your few personalize and apply what they’ve heard.
— The Art Of Group Talk pg. 101

Another great practical piece to The Art of Group Talk is the quiz section at the end of each chapter. These are practical questions to allow the reader to look at how they lead and how they can make small shifts to lead their few well.

Anyone who leads a small group would benefit from this book and its practical tips for having meaningful conversations with the kids and students that are in their tribe.

Lead Small
By Reggie Joiner, Tom Shefchunas

Notes from #OC16 - How To Tell A Story Beyond Sunday


Below are the notes I took from Dan Scott's session at #OC16. This year we hope to develop our Storytelling team with many of these points in mind as we look to engage kids on a Sunday, so that our kids are more equipped to live in their Monday's. 

As children’s ministry leaders, we are telling the greatest story ever told. No only is it true, it is life changing—forever changing. And through that story, kids encounter the love of God who sent Jesus to rescue us.
— Dan Scott

Stories are what captures imagination.
We have stories that shape our everyday and our everyday can become a great story.
Today those stories are published on a phone even before the consequences are thought out.

YouTube – 300 hrs of footage uploaded every minute.
Vine – 6 second videos that are played on average 1.5 billion times a day.
Snapchat – 500 million uploads a day.
Stories are available every day and are changing every minute.

Storyteller: A human created in the image of God.
Role of a Storyteller: Awaken imagination of the audience.

As storytellers of the Gospel we are not always doing all that we can to present that story as best we can.

What are some ways that you are missing the mark in your storytelling of the Gospel?

The question that we need to ask ourselves is: How are we using our skills as a storyteller to present the Gospel in ways that awaken the imagination and pull kids towards the life change that is found within the Truth of the Gospel?    

We need to help kids become engaged in the big story of the Bible and make it memorable.

Two ways that we can engage kids are:
1) Passive – see, hear and read
2) Active – Hands-on learning

Percentage of learning intake for kids.
               10% Reading
               20% Hearing
               30% Seeing
               50% Seeing & Hearing

               70% Speaking & Writing
               90% Doing

If this is the case for how kids learn do we need to change up how we lead large groups?
               Generally speaking, our Large Group times are set up for kids to learn passively, but if our small groups are set up in the correct ways kids will have the opportunity to learn actively and engage the same story in a new and exciting way.

Your Small Group time needs to be a direct extension of the story that is told from the stage. That time needs to be two things:
1) Fun
2) Engaging

Small Group time needs to be fun and engaging because how we communicate TRUTH matters and we need to know all aspects of the story being presented on Sunday. We need to treat the story with the utmost respect because of the life changing power of the story we are communicating to kids.

Too much is at stake for a kid if we present a bad story on a Sunday.

If we head into a Sunday with the mindset that too much is at stake for a kid if we present a bad story we need to KNOW the story inside and out. Read the story, live the story, and engage in the content that you will need to pull out for the kids to learn the Bottom Line. In the end it is the big concept of the story that matters and not the memorizing of the text that will stick with the kids. If they know the Bottom Line the kids can learn to live out the key concept of the story on a Monday.

Tools for Storytellers to keep in mind as the lead.

1)      Vocal Dynamics.
This is a great tool as you establish different characters on stage and help kids differentiate between these characters as you present the whole story. It helps you develop the character traits found in the characters in the story and the easiest way to show kids which traits are important is to change how you speak.

Pace of story is also established through how you use your voice and can help kids lean into the story at the times that are really important (i.e. Bottom Line).

The key is that through your voice you can bring to life the story and the characters found within the Bible.

2)      Planned Movement/Blocking.
This is something that I need to be more aware of because I walk as I talk and use my hands a lot. As you prep and read the story ahead of time begin to think about the specific spots on the stage that you want to use to LAND certain points of the story.

a.      Start in the middle of the stage with the Big Idea.

b.      Use stage right for point one (move across the stage in the way people read naturally).

c.      Use the middle again for the central point.

d.      End at stage left.

e.      Come back to the middle as you lean into the Bottom Line and what concept you want the kids to leave with.

3)      Connect it to life.

a.      Bottom Line – What is the point the Bible story is trying to make?

b.    What is it that we want kids to DO as a result of what they have learned?  

Check out some great Storytelling tools from Dan by clicking the graphic below. I am super excited for what is coming from Dan because he is an unbelievable communicator and he will be able to help your ministry in numerous ways. 


Session 1 Notes from #OC16 (Redefining The Role Of The Elementary Pastor)

Below are the notes that I took during Mike Clear's opening session at #OC16. Redefining The Role Of The Elementary Pastor was an awesome way to kick off the week and gave a great framework for a lot of the themes that many of my other breakout sessions would cover. 


1)      What are we doing?

a.      This needs to be defined by your mission statement.  We show up to help our kids become motivated by the Gospel to live out their faith every day.

1.      Know – know who Jesus is and establish an understanding of faith.

2.      Love – Jesus loves you and you need to show others the same love. This is where kids understand the character of Jesus and how moral behaviour is a way that Christ works through them to be light in their world.

3.      Share – Creating opportunities for kids and families to share their faith whether through word or action. 

2)      Why are we doing it?

a.      What is at stake if we go away? What would change in a kid’s life without the light of the local church?

b.      What has God called you (the leader) to in your life? Ministry will take courage and patience.

3)      Where do I fit in?

a.      What are your core responsibilities? 

1) Maximize your strengths and minimize your weakness.
2) Lack of skill does not eliminate responsibility.

Most of your job as an Elementary Pastor will fit itself into two key categories and it is your job as the leader to be able to recognize what area you are currently living in.

1)      Production – The environments we create for our kids

2)    People – Dealing with individuals who are created in the image of God. No matter how we feel at the present moment everyone deserves the best from you at any given moment.

A)     Align your whole team.

a.      How are you repeating your core values to volunteers and staff so that they become the walking DNA of your ministry? Everyone should be able to answer the question of why do I show up/why do I do what I do. TPCKidmin – We want our kids to become motivated by the Gospel to live out their faith every day.

1.      Know Jesus

2.      Love Jesus and others

3.      Share Jesus with the world

                                                   ii.     These core values cannot be talked about enough.            

1.      Face-to-face coffee conversations

2.      Training

3.      Played out in how we plan

                                                  iii.     How are some ways that you can visually reproduce some of these values?

1.      Facebook banners

2.      Interview notes

3.      Murals in kidmin wing

4.      Stage design

                                                  iv.     Do your staff/volunteers understand what the win is for your ministry?

1.      Tell them that the win is found when we answer the question why we do what we do.

2.      The win is when faith becomes when our kids become motivated by their faith to live it out every day. When their character reveals Christ and Christ works through them to change the world around them. 

B)     Recruit for growth.

a.      Attract the right leader

                                                    i.     Go after the owners not the renters (Not Normal book)

b.      How are you perusing the new and quality leader so they invest in your ministry?

                                                    i.     Hoping they come to you will not work

                                                   ii.     Create easy avenues for them to establish involvement

                                                  iii.     Inspire your current leaders to find the next leader

1.      Likes attract Likes – The owners in your ministry will attract others who have similar traits and morals.

                                                  iv.     Mine for talent

1.      What avenues do you have for your current leaders/volunteers to grow?

2.      Do you have a structure that inspires leadership development?

3.      As leaders develop they can carry the vision forward because they want to stay.


1)      Think vertically

a.      How do you transition the kids into and out of your ministry?

                                                              i.     Newborn – Toddler

                                                             ii.     Toddler – Preschool

                                                            iii.     Preschool – Elementary

                                                            iv.     Elementary – Sunday Morning Jr. High

                                                             v.     Elementary – Friday Night Youth

b.      How do you ease the transition for parents?

                                                              i.     What does your transition Sunday look like?

2)      Think Systems (Refine)

a.      What foreseeable challenges currently have no systems?

                                                              i.     What happens when check-in goes down?

                                                             ii.     Bathroom Policy

                                                            iii.     Visitors

b.      Fix the systems that are not functioning 

3)      Think Message

a.      Elevate TRUTH at all times

                                                              i.     How do you apply truth to your audience’s reality? Do you KNOW your audience and the reality that they live in?

b.      Kids at every age are created uniquely to understand God (It’s Just A Phase)

                                                              i.     Kids change but God doesn’t – you have to adjust your message

                                                             ii.     How do you connect kids to God as they transition through the phases?

c.      Elementary kids think like scientists but love stories - so how do you teach a story?

                                                              i.     What is the ONE thing you want a kid to never forget?

                                                             ii.     What scriptures align with that ONE thing

                                                            iii.     How will you recycle that ONE thing so they will remember it?

d.      Prioritize TRUTH and what is relevant to a child in the current phase they are in.

4)      Think Horizontally

a.      What is your strategy to recycle core truths?

                                                              i.     What is your scope and cycle for curriculum?

1.      Three year rotation – one year is a chronological journey through the Bible

2.      What do you want them to remember?

b.      How do you help kids recycle the lessons?

                                                              i.     Add more voices

1.      Storytellers are unique in their delivery and can help kids remember in different ways.

2.      Also multiple leaders that say the same thing in different ways on a Sunday will help a kid remember

c.      More understanding

                                                              i.     The goal of teaching is for kids to understand the ONE truth and not the amount of content. Content does not equal knowledge.

                                                             ii.     The goal is to help a kid master a concept of God

d.      Teach more relevant material

                                                              i.     Help kids understand how to connect their faith with what is happening around them

e.      Adults share how they feel and think about your ministry

                                                              i.     Do not prioritize your content around adult feelings. Prioritize your content around what a child needs to understand God in the phase they are currently in.

5)      Think program improvement

a.      Ask the question what lessons from last week can be applied to this week.

b.      How are we evaluating our ministry so that improvements that can be made are recorded and acted upon?

                                                              i.     Who are you serving?

                                                             ii.     What areas of our ministry need evaluating?

1.      Transition points

2.      Relationships and how they are formed

3.      New family experiences

                                                            iii.     Get a set of fresh eyes that can walk through your ministry if you need them.

                                                            iv.     Always be on the lookout for an answer to the question – How can it be improved?

1.      We work in our ministry daily and quite often we do not have the time to work on it

                                                             v.     What is working well and needs to be celebrated?

1.      New Christians

2.      Great relationships

                                                            vi.     How are you improving the environment?

1.      How do we visually reengage our kids?

2.      The look of the environments can undermine the relationships that you want to make with kids. They feel undervalued and disengaged.

3.      Show care through the visual appeal of your environments

4.      Make it welcoming

a.      It is always someone’s first week.

5.      Know your audience and how they engage with your space

6.      Equip your leaders

a.      Supplies need to be available and easy to find.


6)      Think community

a.      Evaluate the connections that are being made in small group time.

                                                              i.     How do you monitor the relational impact of your leaders?

b.      Numbers matter

                                                              i.     Who is coming

                                                             ii.     Who are new Christians? 

                                                            iii.     Baptisms

                                                            iv.     New to our church

c.      Your ministry has three crowds

                                                              i.     Kids

                                                             ii.     Parents

                                                            iii.     Small Group Leaders

1.      How do you ask questions that prompt responses?

2.      What are the home runs in those three areas?

3.      Generate questions by asking how you can do better.

7)      Think family

a.      How can we help families win at home?

                                                              i.     Do they know the win when it comes to your ministry?

b.      What happens on Monday at home is more important than what happens on Sunday

                                                              i.     Leaders who plan for that see growth in the areas that matter i.e. baptism

c.      When parents come:

                                                              i.     Give them a plan.

1.      Parents want to be proactive and not reactive when it comes to the faith of their child

                                                             ii.     Show them how it works.

1.      What is your family ministry plan? Show them how their kids will be cared for at each phase.

                                                            iii.     What they can do today.

1.      Tell them the lesson so they can recap and follow up at home

2.      Cue the parent

3.      Parents have a vision on what they want their kids faith to look like we just need to help them achieve it.

8)      Think Influence

a.      Set up the kids so they can serve both inside and outside the church

b.      How are you giving kids opportunities to experience ministry?

c.      Kids faith grows when they serve.

Thoughts from #OC16 - Share the WHY

Your ministry will only be effective when your leaders, volunteers and parents know the mission and vision of that ministry. I feel like we have said what our mission is quite frequently. It is that we want to see kids and students motivated by the Gospel to live out their faith everyday. 

We hope that in our kids ministry our kids learn to do this by: 

  1. Knowing Jesus
  2. Loving others like Jesus loves them
  3. Sharing Jesus with those around them

So, what I have come to realize at #OC16 (Orange Conference) is simply this:

"0nce you think you have shared your vision too much you are only getting started." -Rebekah Bullard  

Another leader put it like this: 

"As a leader you constantly have to fill your bucket because vision always leaks out." - Sue Miller  

No matter how good of a communicator you are everyone needs to be reminded why you do what you do because you can't always see the results.  

One key thing for me so far this week has been that we cannot stop telling everybody why we show up every Sunday. We show up at TPCKidmin to motivate students and kids to live out their faith by teaching them the Gospel and the Truth contained in scripture.  

"We don't want people to show up to our church just to show up. We want to connect them to a growing relationship with Christ." - Dan Scott  

My brain is in hyperdrive after two days of learning, dreaming and vision casting for the future generations of our church, but none of those thoughts will make an impact on our ministry if we do not share the WHY we do what we do with everybody.        

Start Here

Accepting Christ as your Savior is always a moment for celebration, but when we see our kids wanting to make this decision, it’s a wonderful thing! However, it is something that usually happens away from mom and dad (in Sunday school or during summer camp) and it is our goal to not only have the conversation with the parents, but to help them to make it a family celebration. We don’t want them to miss out. There are so many family discussions and moments that can take place during this “process of discovery” for a child. To also note, there are some circumstances whereby the child might not be celebrated at home for their decision and, in those instances, our goal is that the child's small group leader will walk with them as they process what having a Saviour means to them. 

One parent described the process of discussing the decision of accepting Christ as Savior:

Sometimes I get stuck in my own head as I talked with my kids about accepting Christ. It is such an important decision that I want them to make for themselves. When my kids asks my about Jesus and how to accept Him as their Saviour and I am caught off guard, or distracted I get flustered and begin to over-spiritualize the conversation to a point that my kids do not understand. I start using church language instead of having an age appropriate and child-friendly conversation.

How do I make sure that my child understands the importance of this decision and at the same time talk to them in a way they understand?

Another parent asked us:

How often should I talk to my kids about accepting Christ? I see that they are asking good questions, but I do not want them to feel like I am pressuring them, or have them start to ignore me because I have asked them too often.

I love the simplicity and clarity of the “Start Here” program as it guides parents through this process. The “Start Here” program is a tangible, simple brochure that helps the parent walk with the child in their decision, and it’s all centered around a verse that many of us know and teach our kids.

We even have parents who wonder if they ask too much about their child’s walk – or lack thereof – with Christ. Our curriculum 252 Basics uses an easy to read and understand version of this message, and this is the basis of the “Start Here” program: 

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life.
— John 3:16 NIrV

The parent literature that comes with “Start Here” is fully customizable and editable, and is a wonderful starting point for your ministry to equip parents. It also addresses a family Q&A to guide and direct the conversation towards the end goal. Our leaders will soon be equipped with this material to ensure that conversations happening in our small-group time, that the messaging is consistent, and that the parental until is provided with easy follow-up. 

In the end, how well parents, volunteers and leaders are equipped to have important conversations is essential in how the Gospel message is clearly shared. “Start Here” covers all of these and we can’t wait to see how our ministry and families benefit from the conversations that are encouraged through it. 

Serving out of stress.

— Not Normal: Seven Quirks of Incredible Volunteers | Adam Duckworth and Sue Miller

It sounds so simple to say that if something stresses you out you should stop doing it. However, sometimes it is not that easy. I think about the volunteers that I have worked with in the past and currently and I think about how there has to be people who serve around me that feel the stress of working with kids and teens and don't know how to step down, or feel pressure to stay where they are even though the joy is gone. 

You may be thinking what pressures keep volunteers from stepping down or to even speak up about how they feel. Well, some that I have experienced are: 

  • They don't know where else they can serve within the church. 
  • They see the overwhelming need of volunteers and don't want to add to that.
  • They don't want to disappoint those who are leading the ministry.
  • They don't want the kids to feel like they are abandoning them. 

Those are only a few of the pressures that volunteers face and many of them are extremely valid and hard to navigate without talking it out with the leader of the ministry or with trusted friends. A leaders job is to get people into their sweet spot of volunteering and serving God. 

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms”
— I Peter 4:10 NIV

We are called to serve others, but we should not be holding people back from moving out of a stressful situation and into their sweet spot of volunteering. If some of the pressure can be addressed so that they can continue to serve where they are that is great, but if they need to move on we should be helping them find that spot.

But that doesn’t mean we give up. We look for someone new, and start over. If you had a bad experience we want to challenge you to start again someplace new.
— Not Normal: Seven Quirks of Incredible Volunteers | Adam Duckworth and Sue Miller

A leader should never place the pressure of finding a new volunteer on the person moving into their sweet spot. God provides and there is someone within the church who's sweet spot IS within your ministry. The leaders job is to help that person see the vision of the ministry and for the new volunteer to step in and run with their new role. We want to keep our volunteers from giving up on serving.

— Not Normal: Seven Quirks of Incredible Volunteers | Adam Duckworth and Sue Miller

As I read Not Normal last week I had so many great internal conversations with myself about our culture of volunteering and how to make it stronger and how to help volunteers feel more equipped to engage our kids on how they can live out their faith everyday. When we engage our volunteers to move from stress to sweet spot we show that serving out of joy is way better than serving out of obligation. 

Maintaining Faith Habits

The seventh book I am reading in my one hundred book challenge (#100BooksOf2016, or#100Books if you follow along on Twitter,) this year is Brad Lomenick's H3 Leadership. I have felt quite challenged personally on my daily faith habits. Brad breaks faith habits into five areas and they are:

  1. Hearing
  2. Reading
  3. Studying
  4. Memorizing
  5. Meditation 

First, where I feel I am keeping strong habits are reading and hearing. Taking on one hundred books in a year means that you have to keep a good  two books a week routine. That keeps me focused on personal growth in many areas of my life. I also listen to a good rotation of sermons and podcasts. My three go-to podcasts are:

  1. Bill Hybels and Willow Creek services
  2. Judah Smith and Church
  3. The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast

I have a few others that I keep up with, but those three are my staples for my week. Where I am making some changes is in studying intentionally the word of God. I usually read books about the Bible, but I find that I wasn't spending enough time IN the Bible. Do not get me wrong I would read the Bible for curriculum ideas, passages that came up in podcasts, or for other kidmin related projects. After getting together with a good friend we made an agreement to read the word more this year. We keep each other accountable and that is a huge help. I am currently reading through the Gospels with my wife and I am reading through Genesis during the day for my own personal time in the Bible.  

Here is where I struggle - memorizing. It isn't even a matter of not doing it a lot, it's a matter of being terrified of the word memorizing itself. I struggled as a kid in that area and how others responded to that have not helped my feeling towards memorizing scripture today. I know that is a poor excuse and I hope to get better. The first step for me is to not let the word terrify me before I even begin. 

As for meditation and prayer. I think everyone would love to pray more daily and I am the same way. We have included more prayer in our kidmin services over the last year and a bit and I have gone to God in prayer more in my own life lately. 

Faith habits are essential in life and I love that I can reflect on how I am doing and challenge myself and have others challenge me on how they are going. 

Faith is less like your arm and more like your heart. It is not supplementary to who we are but integral.
— Brad Lomenick: H3 Leadership | pg 45

Brad gives a great breakdown in the fifth chapter of H3 Leadership on how to help grow and foster faith habits. A great chapter for constant reminders on how you are growing in your faith and not relying on your own success, but relying on what God has done for us.

The more one succeeds, the busier one gets.And the busier one gets, the harder it is to nurture spiritual vitality.
— Brad Lomenick: H3 Leadership | pg 46

I would love to hear in the comments what you are reading and listening to that engages your faith habits and growth in the comments below.