Essential Skills for Leading Small Groups
I've had the privilege of being involved in small groups for over 25 years as a participant, leader, pastor overseeing small groups, and as director of a network of missional communities. Over the years, I have learned that there are essential skills for leading a small group effectively. I have broken them down into four categories: preparation skills, skills for leading a small group meeting, shepherding skills and outreach/multiplying skills.
Preparation skills relate to who we are as small group leaders and how we prepare to serve our small group members.
- Growing as a Small Group Leader - In my blog on the Dimensions of Christian Leadership, I look at several key growth areas for leaders. As small group leaders grow in these seven areas, they will become more effective in leading their small groups.
- Discernment – Observing and understanding ourselves, the individuals in our groups, and our culture.
- Biblical Understanding – Studying a passage of Scripture and understanding its intent and how it might apply to our lives today.
- Making the Most of Curriculum – Using Bible Study guides, videos and other materials to help group members understand and apply biblical truth.
Skills for Leading Group Meetings
Leading the actual small group meetings is obviously an important skill for small group leaders. Here are some that I have found are important:
- Breaking the Ice – Helping group members feel comfortable with one another so that they are more likely to engage in deeper levels of sharing.
- Establishing a Flexible Structure – Creating a meeting format that accomplishes the purposes of the small group while being flexible enough to shift as the Spirit moves.
- Using Non-Verbal Cues Effectively – Using the room environment and body language to support the goals of your small group.
- Engaging in Active Listening – Hearing what people are actually saying and even thinking.
- Asking Excellent Questions – Launching and guiding a discussion in a direction, which is profitable for the group.
As “pastors” of a small community of believers, small group leaders would do well to develop the following shepherding skills (Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book, Making Small Groups Work, was very helpful):
- Making Disciples – Helping individuals take the necessary steps to grow in their relationship with God and others, develop Christ-like character and to increasingly live out God’s call on their lives with passion and excellence.
- Building a Healthy Group Culture – Developing a safe, non-judgmental place where people can care for one another.
- Investing Time in Building Community – Facilitating interactions both during and between official meeting times that draw people closer to each other.
- Extending Forgiveness – Helping the group experience and extend grace and forgiveness to others.
- Providing Support – Hearing and confirming a person’s emotional reality while humbly and lovingly helping them to assess the situation more objectively.
- Processing Grief Together – Helping people express their pain and to journey with them as they go through the various cycles of grief.
- Providing a Place of Healing – Providing comfort while empowering individuals to take appropriate next steps.
- Practicing Loving Confrontation – Engaging in conflict in a healthy way that can lead to transformed lives and relationships.
- Mentoring Others - Asking good questions and providing timely counsel that spurs another person on to love God more deeply and serve Him more effectively.
Outreaching and Multiplying Skills
The strongest small group communities have a sense of mission beyond themselves. Here are several essential outreach and multiplying skills:
- Mobilizing and Equipping People to Serve – Discerning peoples’ strengths and encouraging them to use them in meaningful ways.
- Encouraging Group Members to be Missional – Modelling a life committed to reaching lost people for Christ and encouraging others to do the same.
- Adding Members to Your Group – Facilitating small group meetings and other informal small group activities where newcomers feel welcome.
- Launching a New Group – Preparing a group (or individuals within a group) to start another group and then helping to launch that group.
If you'd like to receive training in some or all of these essential skills for small group leaders, check out MinistryLift’s Small Groups Ministry Training.