5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Leading a Small Group

  • 15 September 2017
  • Keith Reed

Deep thoughtIt's hard to multiply small groups if you don’t have small group leaders. And when churches are flooded with people who want to join a group, the logical solution is to launch new groups—even if there isn't anyone to lead them. This is a "problem" well worth solving because groups carry the potential to be excellent incubators of spiritual growth. But it comes with two obvious challenges: 

1. How to find suitable leaders for new groups (most people don't want to lead small groups)  
2. How to train new leaders before their groups begin 

What should you do?

There are many ways to locate and discern new leaders (here are 10 strategies for recruiting volunteers), so I will focus here on the second challenge: how to train new leaders.

Leadership training is critical to ministry success and an effective way to equip new leaders is by sending them resources that they can access on their own time. Our small groups ministry page is designed with this in mind

However, there might be an occasion when there simply isn't enough time for new leaders to be trained before their first meeting. And even for those who have been adequately trained, the experience of leading a small group will prompt new experiences and questions. After all, no two groups are the same.   

I asked followers of our MinistryLift Facebook page to give their advice to first-time small group leaders. They delivered some wise comments that you can view here (please add to the ongoing conversation).

Here are 5 things I wish I knew before I led a small group for the first time: 

1. Defining your purpose is critical  
I avoided this step because it felt too rigid. I threw the idea into the same box as establishing core values and signing a group covenant. These didn’t feel necessary; I was leading a new small group, not a church plant.

But here's what I experienced: groups without a clear purpose will drift. Plus, if you don’t initiate a conversation about this, people will carry their expectations for the group without a means to express them. Don't let this happen. Ask your group where they want to be a year from now and build a structure to help them realize their vision.

2. Connect with people outside of group times 
I believe the time you spend with people outside your meeting times will have a greater impact than what you do during your group time. This communicates that your small group is a way of life and not a program. It will help you listen and understand one another. And it will build group trust and friendship.

Family life and work schedules might make this difficult, but there are ways you can show you care that don’t involve much time. Send a text or make a call with a follow up to a prayer request. This will set the tone for your group's culture and it will become contagious.

3. Do more listening and less talking 
I made the mistake of thinking I was teaching my group instead of going on a journey with them. I had assumed the time spent on a "study" was the most important part of our meeting (this speaks again to importance of defining your group's purpose). Many groups will defer to their leader and let him or her do the bulk of the talking. But group engagement usually dwindles when one person dominates the discussion. Thankfully, asking excellent questions is a skill that can be developed.  

4. Don't be afraid to mix it up 
People learn in different ways so be creative in how you facilitate your group time. Break into groups of 2 or 3 for discussion, give people paper and pens to draw a prayer request, or open your time with an ice-breaker that no one has done before.

I made the mistake of focusing too much prep time on the study and not enough on the people. Consider how you can best help people engage during the meeting time. What will help them feel connected to each other? How will the meeting allow your group to realize its purpose?

5. Empower others 
You might have "leader" in your title, but this doesn't mean you should do everything. Your role is to help your group move in the right direction and to offer guidance as needed. Group life is a beautiful opportunity for people to test their gifts and contribute in meaningful ways. Give people the chance to lead a future discussion, empower someone to manage administrative tasks, and find a volunteer to plan a social event. 

Our small groups ministry page has more training resources to help you strengthen your group. And if you don't find what you're looking for, be sure to contact us with your request.  

Keith Reed is the Associate Director of MinistryLift at MB Seminary.  

Click here to view other ministry training topics.

Photo credit: Beachbody, 2017.