Every small group, home group, or house church eventually faces the question, “what can we do with with all these kids?”  Our own Growth Group faced this question this past year (2007).  We have A LOT of young kids (the adults are seriously outnumbered!).  The adults faced constant disruption and conflicts between the kids that made our time together very frustrating and unprofitable.   The goal was to find a way to give the adults as much uninterrupted time as possible.

Fast forward a few months.  Our group decided to go through a series on parenting–all of us parents needed the support in learning how to become better parents and disciple-makers to our kids.  As I thought through the material, the idea occurred to me, “why not design a list of expectations for our Growth Group?”   This list of expectations would be like a fence around a playground; it would keep our kids feeling safe, yet not restricted.  The list of expectations would be like a guardrail along a cliff; it would provide security without unnecessary restriction.

So here is what we did.

The adults sat down during one of our gatherings and each of us listed behaviors we felt acceptable or unacceptable.  This was a great opportunity for us, as parents, to build trust in one another to be responsible for holding all the kids accountable to our shared expectations.  Not everyone shared the same cultural background, family history, or parenting philosophy… so we found that our discussion really helped us understand one another as parents.  Here is what we came up with…

For the Parents

  1. We need to share in the responsibility of discipline for all the kids as a community/family.
  2. For an item to make the list, every parent must come into agreement.
  3. Every parent must learn to be consistent in dealing with the kids.
  4. The list will give new families coming into the group and better idea of what the group is like.
  5. We should consider paying one of the older kids to help “baby-sit” during the meeting.  (We only had 2 teenagers to choose from, but they were willing and it has worked out great for us.)

Based on our initial discussion, the expectations for the kids broke down into 3 broad categories.

rules for small groupFor the Children

Respect the Home

  1. Keep food & drink in eating area.
  2. Keep toys in play areas.

Respect the Meeting

  1. Walk into the meeting
  2. Whisper when talking to an adult

Respect Others

  1. No Spitting, Hitting, or Pushing
  2. No Yelling or Name Calling
  3. Share Toys, Games, and TV
  4. Older kids help work out any fights.
  5. No making out (respect personal space)
  6. Respect your elders

In addition to these 10 expectations, we also realized there were some changes we needed to make in the way we ran our group.

Suggestions for Group Dynamics

  1. We need to provide healthy snacks with less sugar so kids don’t get too wired during the meeting.  It really is not fair to load kids up with sugar and then expect them to be calm!!!
  2. We designated one adult to help handle any kids issues during the meeting and provide needed discipline. (usually the host or hostess).  This gives most of the parents a break from the kids and it also helped establish a unified front so the kids started to recognize and respect the authority of the parents as a group.

After we put our list of ten expectations together, we needed a way to help the kids take ownership for our new approach to Growth Group.

Engaging the Kids

  1. We had the kids write out the rules/expectations.
  2. We dedicated one entire night to sitting down together with kids and talking about group expectations.
  3. We will over the rules at the beginning of each night, before the adult time, so all kids are aware of the expectations.

Now the issue came up, how do we handle discipline?  We are asking each adult to be responsible for each child.  In personal terms, that means I am giving permission for other adults in our group to disciple my kids and vis-a-versa.  Here is what we came up with for our group.

Discipline

  1. Be realistic–don’t make crazy statements about punishment that cannot be enforced or go beyond the boundaries of agreed expectation.
  2. Be consistent–every parent must hold the kids accountable to the expectations and every parent must be consistent with all the kids.
  3. Follow-though–words must turn into action.
  4. Time out chair (egg-timer for 2-minute penalty box)–we all agreed that this was a safe, reasonable, and effective discipline.
  5. Have kids apologize and ask forgiveness after their time-out.
  6. Remind them of the rules/expectations.
  7. The parent is called in ONLY if the kids don’t stay on time-out.  When the parent comes in, they are asked to remind their kid to respect other adults in the group.  Each parent is then responsible to apply the “next-level” of discipline in a manner that is consistent with their own parenting style.  Not everyone will agree on what this “next-level” should be, but that is a healthy freedom for each family.

The Result

Here is the way our group now works.

Families come together at 6:30pm. We share some food and catch up on the week.  The kids are allowed to run around and share in this opening time.  When it is time for the adults to meet, we gather all the kids together.  One of the adults reads through the list of expectations and the kids are asked to read along and repeat the list (Now this responsibility has been passed on to the teenagers who watch the kids.  This way the kids have learned to respect the teens as authority figures and respect their discipline.).  We do this every time we get together.   The results have been tremendously positive. Our adult time has been amazing and the kids have all responded well!

The other benefit, is that several of our parents have applied this same approach at home.  They created a list of expectations for their family. They wrote down the list and posted it where the kids can see it every day.  It has helped a lot with behavior problems and helped moms and dads become more consistent is disciplining their kids.

Overall, this was a great solution to an age old question.

Try it out in your small group/home church meeting and let me know how it works!

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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