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Leading the Church

How to Lead Small Groups

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
So what can you do? Start to think small! For God to do something big in your life and in your church, you need to start thinking small-Small Groups! Small Groups are important and essential. They are the primary and best means to learn and grow in our walk with Christ.

Small Groups are the way to grow your church in Him! Your church is called to make Small Groups!

For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (Matt. 18:20)

So what can you do? Start to think small! For God to do something big in your life and in your church, you need to start thinking small-Small Groups! Small Groups are important and essential. They are the primary and best means to learn and grow in our walk with Christ. All Christians who are serious about their faith should be in a Small Group. In the article, "Why Should your People be in Small Groups?" we discussed its importance and impact. Now that we understand that Small Groups are essential for the formation of our Christian faith, we must realize their importance and how they help give us the ability to transfer our learning into real, practical influence to others around us. It is as iron sharpens iron; this means we help one another to hone our faith and develop our character. We can listen to all the sermons, read all the best books, buy great CDs, and go to seminars-even seminary; but, unless we challenge one another in the Word and faith, we will only have a shallow understanding of and impact on the Christian life. Community breeds maturity and growth compared to individualism which tends to breed pride and isolation. Do not get me wrong; we need to be in church under good teaching, we need to do our devotions individually, and be in personal prayer and study. But, to get the most out of our Christian learning so to impact our Christian living, we have to work it out with others who are working it out; and that place is in Small Groups (Phil. 2:12-13).

What Does My Church Need to Do?

Even though there is no set formula, there are a few "tried and true" ways Small Groups can develop that will be more consistent and purpose-filled so they can be more impacting and rewarding for all those involved. Our primary spiritual growth comes from our personal devotional times. Our involvement in Small Groups helps us further our growth and be the "iron that sharpens" one another as each one in the group helps another grow in Him and apply our faith into the world! Make a commitment to develop a Small Group ministry. All the tools you need are in this article, and the rest of the resources can be found in our Small Group channel (Small Groups) and in the various links provided. You can also go to organizations such as Serendipity and Neighborhood Bible Study (links at the end) for good resources. You can see our article on how to start programs. In addition:

· Use our article (How to Write Your Complete Purpose Statement!) to develop your philosophy of Small Group ministry-keep it short and simple. More resources in our Church Growth channel.

Have a clear ministry vision of Small Groups and communicate this to the leaders and congregation. This will explain what it is, what it means, its values and purpose, and its benefits. Then develop a structure and plan for it.

· Put in lots of prayer!

· Who will be the leaders?

· Who will train the leaders?

· What materials will you need?

· How will they be organized?

· When and where will the meeting take place?

· What curriculum will be used?

· What resources will be needed?

· How will the leaders of the church communicate with the Small Group leaders?

· How will accountably be structured?

· How will you deal with problems?

· How will you evaluate it?

Then, seek how people will be encouraged and equipped, listen to input, and then make the adjustments. Then, go to the congregation with your passion and plan, and just do it!

Marketing Small Groups to a Church That Thinks They Are Scary

The people in your church, whether you have two Small Groups, have never had them, or half of the people are in them, need to be challenged and inspired to be in Small Groups. You have to tell them why they need to be in one, that it is fun and easy, and help alleviate their fears. The pastor must share the passion, personally be in one, and give his testimony. Then, further help enable your church membership to get in one by modeling Small Groups through demonstration, skits, testimonies, and literature. Have a table in your church lobby staffed with Small Group leaders to sign people up and answer questions. Then, once the people are coming, continue the testimonies, share success stories, and honor the people with celebration and encouragement.

The congregation also needs to know how pastoral care and counseling will be provided (know the limits of the Small Group; they can provide listening and encouragement but not resolve serious issues or do therapy unless the leader is licensed and trained!) Small Groups can unravel deep hurts and issues that have not been dealt with prior, so people need a place to go to be helped.

Create Clear Leadership Responsibilities!

Have a plan to recruit and develop leaders. Make sure the leaders are growing in their walk, have a plan to deal with problems such as crisis, conflict, and abusive people, have regular meetings for prayer, evaluation, encouragement, and mentoring and apprentice development.

A Model to Equip Leaders

The church is called to find the most capable people possible and protect the flock from potential harm. Never put just anyone in any position; it is better to have empty positions than the wrong people in them! The essential key is for you to find people whose heart is after God's heart (1 Cor. 11:1)! It is always best to find people who have done it before, but this is not necessary, as long as you train effectively. The biggest reason why churches fail at a Small Group ministry is they fail to train the leaders; the result is the occurrence of all kinds of problems (Rom. 12; Phil. 3:10-14, 4:8-9, 13; Col. 1:28-29; 4:7ff)!

As church leaders come together to pray for wisdom on group dynamics and direction:

· Create your own Small Group training booklet; use this article, the article on why to be in Small Groups, and how to resolve conflict (Talking your Way out of Conflict). You will then have your own manual. Make any needed changes and put your church name on it. (Please keep our copyright info on it, too.)

· Realize that since the dawn of the Church, finding leaders and workers has been a tough task. Our call is to do it even when the results might seem like failure (Matt. 9:37-38).

· Look for a person who is grounded in the Word, has a good temperament, an aptitude and desire to lead, and the willingness to be supervised. If he or she does not like supervision, consider that a red flag warning!

A good facilitator needs to strive for obedience to the principles of God's Word and practice the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, prayer, fellowship, worship, and stewardship. He must have good relationships with spouse, children, friends, church members, neighbors, co-workers. If he does not, find out why; you do not want toxic people in leadership. Sometimes people are shy and that is OK. In addition, these characteristics are very important: have an attitude of prayer, a sense of humour, listening skills, a willingness to learn and follow, one who influences people for Christ and is sensitive to others, an organizer, one who is responsible, who possesses an attitude of servant leadership, and one who is willing to explore his spiritual gifts and use them (Matt. 20:26; John 3:30).

· The leader or facilitator will provide the atmosphere of a safe place to ask questions, and be encouraging, loving, caring, and vulnerable.

· The leader or facilitator will come prepared, keep people on the subject, and realize one cannot lead others where one has not been before!

· The leader/facilitator's main purpose is to get the conversation going.

· The leader or facilitator will introduce the subject or text of the Bible and give any background information. (This can be delegated.)

· The leader or facilitator will then engage the group in dialogue to keep the interaction going without dominating the conversations.

· The leader or facilitator will ask questions and help people respond to the passage or subject for a better understanding of the Bible.

· The leader or facilitator will seek to challenge the people to think on a deeper level to discover the precept, learn what it means, how to be a changed person because of it, and then how to apply it to life. He will demonstrate excitement, when people are growing, by giving affirmation.

· The leader or facilitator will inspire by example that we are people in the process of a spiritual journey and growth; no one has arrived yet. He will share life stories, help others discover and apply God's Word, discuss the precepts, encourage-but not force-everyone to participate by asking "what do you think; anyone else?" realizing that there are many times when there can be more than one good answer or perspective to any good question, and be open to the leading of the Spirit.

· The leader or facilitator needs to be willing to drop the subject of the week to address a current stress or crises with a member.

· The leader or facilitator will honestly express the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) so everyone can better experience authentic care from one another!

· The leader or facilitator will keep confidences and insist others do the same.

· The leader or facilitator will not be afraid to discuss significant issues about real life.

· The leader or facilitator will laugh and have fun, and plan social outings and get-togethers outside of the Small Group!

· The leader or facilitator keeps his people in prayer during the week!

Keep in mind that not everyone will get along with everyone; personalities will conflict, hot buttons will be pushed, and passions exposed. This is OK; it is about being human. Polite disagreement and tension can enable a group to understand each person's position and learn from them! The leader or facilitator will be aware of this and help motivate people toward the big picture of love and care without putting that person down.

The key characteristics to look for in a leader are listening, a willingness to facilitate discussion and summarize input, to allow others to contribute, and then practice care, share, be an encourager, clarify issues, give praise, keep people on the subject (unless there is a "teachable moment"-don't allow people to monopolize the group), and handle wrong answers and heretical ideas graciously while pointing out truth (if you do not know the answer do not make up one, research it and get back to them the following week). It is OK to have periods of reflection and silence, as long as you realize that everyone has a right to be heard and to contribute!

We have to be aware that we are led and embowered by Jesus and can do nothing apart from Him (John 15:5). Facilitating takes work and time and not everyone will be able to do it every time. However, a growth in this direction is essential to growing a healthy, interactive group. Remember, any good Small Group that is "Christian" will have the Bible at its core! And, also spend time in prayer for each member and concerns of the church and world.

Types of leaders

Depending how you feel called to structure your Small Groups you can assign leadership functions to one or more people for each group and even rotate leadership in those groups.

Discussion Starter: This person is the primary leader for the Small Group. He can provide the teaching, be in charge of the curriculum, and/or for starting and facilitating the discussion, making sure everyone has a chance to contribute and no one person dominates the group. This role can rotate form week to week, but someone needs to take responsibility of choosing the leaders, curriculum, make sure it flows, and that the right set of course and questioning are being used.

Host: This person provides the logistics, hospitality, a place for the study (preferably in a home), keeps it fairly neat and welcoming, and facilitates the refreshments. Also, he or she keeps a list of the members, takes attendance to make sure absent people are followed up in the week to see how they are doing, provides good driving directions, gets the curriculum out to people a few days ahead of time if needed, and gives an email or call to remind people periodically. This position can also be rotated as long as consistency and the location are known to all.

Prayer: This person is in charge of the prayer to start the group, and facilitate the prayer at the end. This is an important job; each person should have the opportunity to share prayer requests. Keep your pastor, church, community, government and other concerns in prayer, too. It is best to write down each person's request and keep a record of it for seeing answers and growth and to follow up when necessary. Many resources are in our prayer channel under Discipleship (Prayer).

Other roles can include a Socials Coordinator as each group should do something fun every other month, like a dinner out, a movie, a trip, a yearly retreat, or? There can be a Care Coordinator to follow up on people in times of stress or absence, a Worship Leader to provide a few minutes of worship, a Child Care Coordinator (I have found that if three or four Small Groups that meet at the same day and time pool their resources to hire a sitter, this provides an excellent way to have cost-effective child care in a central location). The point is, not everything should be done by one person!

These people do not need to have theological knowledge or experience; they are the pump primers to get things moving and ask the questions. This works best when you use curriculum that already has the teaching and questions in it, such as any of our Into Thy Word studies. You can have groups where people take turns to lead; this has also worked well, especially for professionals and moms who are busy. A good leader is a listener and will help everyone get involved in the discussion. Not all will talk; but there needs to be an atmosphere for dialogue without reproach from others. A good leader will not allow one person, especially him or her, to dominate the discussion unless it is a leader-based Bible study. Even so, community and discussion must be practiced and encouraged.

Basic Small Group Structure

There is no best way to structure your Small Groups, but there are proven precepts that help structure each group for efficiency, learning, and care in the time allowed. This is a one hour to a one and a half hour model. For a two hour model, add five minutes of time to the teaching, and most of the extra time to discussion and prayer!

  • Warm up: Serve refreshments, fellowship, perhaps have worship (5+ minutes).

  • Prayer: Open with prayer, then, have a fun opening question. (The Serendipity Bible is a great resource for this, as well as any discussion starters from Youth Specialties; they work great for adults too.) (5 minutes).

  • The Study: Curriculum, inductive or…read the passage, then give any relevant teaching that will help stimulate learning and discussion (10 to 20 minutes).

  • Discussion & Questions: Encourage discussion; make sure everyone has the opportunity to participate, and seek to end with an application (25+ minutes).

  • Close in significant Prayer: Spend some time asking how everyone's week has been, then spend time fervently praying for one another, the issues from the above categories, and specifics that have come up (15+ minutes)!

Small Groups are usually one and a half hours to two hours; it depends on time constraints and availability of the people. Do not forget to leave room for fellowship. Perhaps you time is 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., thus you actually start at 7:10 and end promptly at 8:30. This leaves room for people to get to know one another, share life, and fellowship. Make sure you respect people's time.

Then, you need to structure and organize the Small Groups in your church for area coverage, days of the week, and types offered to benefit each member. Also, a leadership structure needs to be in place. For example, for every seven to 10 Small Groups, you need a coach/trainer and a pastor or coordinator in charge of them all. In larger churches, you can group the Small Groups into groups according to where they live under regional coordinators/leaders whose primary responsibility is to train and be a help for the groups in their area. You can have three areas, four to six or more for major metropolitan areas. Make a flow chart, but make sure your chart and structure is flexible and based on prayer, not in feelings and/or personal agendas. It is also best to have regular meetings for group leaders at least every other month for prayer, training, encouragement, and feedback.

Small Group Training

What does the essential training entail? Basically, it is what is in this article: "What is a Small Group," "How They Benefit the Church," "The Hurdles," and "Types of Small Groups." Also focus on The Key Principles and how to resolve conflict. Typical training can also include:

· Ministry vision, philosophy, and leadership structure.

· Various curriculum offerings, training in how to use them, and their Bible content.

· Prayer ideas.

· Group dynamics.

· Interpersonal relationship skills.

· How to care better.

· How to gain new members.

· How to facilitate more effectively.

· How to resolve conflict.

The Small Groups need to be under the influence of the church and its set parameters, but not over-controlled. Some liberty and freedom needs to exist to allow room to grow and explore other options that the church leadership did not consider.

For more insights see: How to Start, Develop, and Evaluate Programs & Training your Leaders and Congregation

How Do I Recruit Leaders?

So, how do I recruit leaders? One of the best ways to recruit and train Small Group leaders is a "mentor approach." This means to have a primary lead person for each group alongside a secondary lead person. As the group grows, it can be divided into two, and the secondary lead person would become a primary lead person for the new group. Then, a new secondary lead person would be recruited for each group, and so forth.

For additional insights, see our Article on How to Recruit Volunteers!

Once you recruit the leader, partner them off for a few weeks in another Small Group so they can "get the feel" and give them the training booklet. This provides the model and experiences the leaders will need to have to reproduce the group. Then, meet with them to answer any questions; get their feedback and go over the basics so they have the vision and purpose down. Then, you can supervise, solving problems where and when they occur, reinforce, encourage, and put together more training as you go and grow. Have seminars once or twice a year with all leaders and potential leaders for further training, such as, how to resolve conflict, and how to interact with the different personality types. (Serendipity has good resources for this.) You cannot just give them a book, no matter how good it is; personalized instruction and encouragement is essential. If you have a small church and limited resources, partner with other churches and do one together.

· It is absolutely essential that you be willing and able to weed out people who should not be leading groups. Have them do a personality inventory such as Myers Briggs (, and a Spiritual Gifts inventory (Spiritual Gifts). Get to know the people who are responsible to care for the flock. You want the flock properly cared for and not fleeced!

· A true leader, one who is in Christ, will have the characteristics of Servant Leadership, an essential trait The Character of Servant Leadership.

· What should you watch out for? People with wrong or ulterior motives for being in leadership, being over-zealous to lead, spiritually immature and/or a lack of willingness to grow, distrust or dislike for authority, or a personality that seems unstable.

· Is experience required for the leader? No, as long as the attitude and willingness to learn and grow are there, he can learn as he goes. Make sure he gets extra support, mentoring, and prayer (John 1:12).

· Having a method of handling conflict resolution is paramount, and will solve most future problems and issues. Firstly, identify the conflict and the responses from each side and listen carefully to them with encouragement and understanding. Secondly, explore a Biblical model of conflict resolution. Thirdly, integrate Biblical knowledge in a step-by-step fashion. And, fourthly, help teach the parties conflict resolution to prevent a repeat of such instances in the future. I sometimes bring other staff or other people in if required. I try to eliminate any misunderstandings and have the attitude for a win/win solution.

· Having a conflict-free environment will enhance recruitment greatly, because nobody wants to work in an atmosphere of strife! Alongside this, it is essential to have a Biblical Vision and Mission Statement, so everyone will be on the same page of what we do and why we do it.

· Have a public reporting of your progress and growth in the church newsletter!

My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments (Col. 2:2-4).

Make sure you check out the rest of our small group articles and resources Small Groups!

© 2004 R.J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development

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