training volunteers small group leaders

Top Three Mistakes Small Group Leaders Make

Small group ministry is an integral part of church life today. In the pre-pandemic world, small groups met on-site as part of the usual ministry programming time, as well as off-site in private homes or even local coffee shops. Currently, they meet online via Zoom or Facetime. 

As the ministry leader works to establish their children or student ministries, they often utilize volunteers in building small groups. When so, they provide an opportunity for deeper discipleship, study, and connection while moving students from the “crowd group” to a “community group.”

While small groups create a connection with students, sometimes it’s easy to overlook a key opportunity within the experience—connecting with parents and families. As part of this month’s theme of training small group leaders, use Why Should Small Group Leaders Care About Parents? along with Top 3 Mistakes Small Group Leaders Make and empower and equip your volunteers to expand the reach of your ministry.

Lack of Communication

One way to make a mistake as a small group leader is to have a lack of communication.

Kurt Johnston, of Saddleback Church, talks about offering parents two simple things with ministry to parents: help and hope. If small group leaders are willing to communicate with parents, as well as students, then they can offer help and hope. For example, a follow-up phone call, email, or text to a student should be coupled with some type of communication to the parent. Adult-To-Adult communication, as well as Adult-To-Student communication, opens the lines of hope and help.

Several years ago, Kurt shared four simple steps for communication with parents: Inform, Interest, Involve, and Intertwine.  These simple steps have become a mantra in the ministries I lead but also form a core part of my small group leader training. Small group leaders need to keep parents informed, as well as interested.

When small group leaders do not notify parents about a small group topic or activity, they miss an opportunity.

Replacing the Connection

The second way to make a mistake is to replace the connection between parent and student, rather than add to the relationship.

Small groups are a place for students to connect with each other and with the leader. It is relational gold for children and youth to be sitting eye-to-eye with their peers and caring adults. Connection happens in circles–not in rows. 

When the small group connection begins to weaken or even replace a parent’s faith connection with their student, they make a mistake. It can happen quickly, such as in spiritual conversations that are mainly happening in ministry and small group settings. Students grow to become spiritually dependent on their small group leaders alone, instead of being connected to the entire circle of caring adults, which includes parents.

It is essential to move from merely informing parents to actually involving parents with small groups. To offer a separate parent-focused discussion is good, but offering the same small group questions for students to parents is great. Your goal is to engage and connect parents at home through the small group ministry. It is not to replace them with small group leaders in essential faith discussions.

Misusing Confidentiality 

The third mistake small group leaders make is when they misuse confidentiality.

One of the most dangerous phrases a small group leader can hear is, “I want to tell you something, but you can’t tell my parents.” It may seem like a special privilege when a student is willing to share something. However, it is a mistake for a small group leader to keep things from parents.

To maintain a partnership with parents, you must keep your small group ministry openly intertwined with the family. Confidence and trust are built when the adults are clearly working together. I have heard too many stories about the missteps of a small group or ministry leader who kept vital information from parents and families. This choice is one way to ruin a ministry. When you leave parents out of their student’s struggles, you also miss an opportunity to love.

In conclusion, small group leaders must be careful not to overlook partnering with their students’ parents. Build trust and improve relationships with students and families when you:

  • provide clear communication
  • enhance faith connection between parent and student
  • engage in a transparent dialogue 

Avoid these top 3 mistakes small groups leaders can make, and you will build a partnership with parents. Then your small group ministry will become a key component to growing your parent ministry, too!


Dan Istvanik has been working in youth ministry for 25 years, serving in churches in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Washington DC.  He is a speaker, ministry coach, writer, and contributor to other ministry resources. You can contact Dan at, where he shares student ministry resources.

For more on Small Group Leaders and Family Ministry, check out:

Why Should Small Group Leaders Care About Parents?

Top Ten Mistakes Family Ministries Make


M2P Members, grab your Small Group Leader Training in the Toolbox: Build a Parent Ministry.

volunteer training leaders

Interested in M2P Member? Click HERE.

Ministry to Parents Member