Preparing Yourself for Leadership
Key Considerations for Effective Small Groups
Think about how you came to follow Jesus and how you have grown in your faith. You are who you are today because someone knew you by name and invested in you.
Whether it was your parents, friends, or perhaps a pastor or small group leader, God has used one or more people to make a tremendous difference in your life.
Leading a small group gives you the opportunity to invest — and perhaps make the same sort of impact — in someone else’s life!
Large-group worship services aren’t designed for personal interaction, and it can be difficult to develop close personal relationships if that is your only connection to Christian community. That’s why small groups can be so valuable.
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, New Living Translation)
The focus of the Great Commission, the verses above, is to make disciples— that is, followers of Jesus. How does one do this? By teaching them to obey everything that He commanded. Small groups are a great way to teach people to obey what Jesus commanded.
Read “Gospel-Centered Small Groups” to learn more about the power of small groups.
God has an amazing way of using a variety of people to accomplish His goals.
We often think it takes a certain type of person to be a great teacher or dynamic leader, but God is more interested in your availability to Him than your natural abilities. As you trust Him to work through you (focusing on His power as opposed to your weaknesses), He will move in your life and the lives of others.
You do not need to be a Bible scholar to lead a small group. “But what if they ask me a question and I don’t know the answer?” When (not if) that happens, simply reply that you don’t know but that you can look it up or ask somebody who does.
Your honesty about the fact that you don’t know everything encourages vulnerability and communicates to others that they don’t have to have all the answers to be obedient to what God’s calling them to do.
If you’re still nervous about the idea of leading a small group, reading this article about how to handle questions or other challenges in group discussions may help.
Spiritual leadership requires different characteristics than leadership in other areas. But perfection is not a requirement. If it were, none of us could lead a small group. Growing into maturity is a continual process.
The following five heart attitudes will help keep you in check as a leader. Spiritual leaders:
Give and receive scriptural correction (Proverbs 19:20).
Serve others rather than only being served (Philippians 2:3-11).
Follow the spiritual leadership of others (Hebrews 13:17).
Initiate forgiveness and reconciliation with others (Matthew 5:21-26).
Keep their word (Matthew 5:33-37).
Do you have these characteristics? What areas do you need to grow in? If you aren’t sure, ask a trusted friend who knows you well— and who will be honest and kind with you — where you are in each of these areas.
Remember, the goal is not the small group in and of itself. The ultimate objective is to trust God to change peoples’ lives.
In Colossians 1:28-29 (New Living Translation), Paul emphatically stated: “So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God perfect in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.”
You cannot lead a small group well without relying on God. God is the One who changes lives, so obviously, He must lead in the process. Only God can bring the people to your small group, develop their character and create deep, transformational relationships.
Prayer is the starting point for such work, for it is God who makes us grow.
I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6, NLT)
Pray before you start preparing. Too often, prayer is the last thing we consider when planning and preparing for our small groups. We tack on a last-minute, all-encompassing prayers asking God to bless well-made plans.
Instead, we need to declare our dependence upon the Most High God at the onset and seek His will every step of the way.
Many small group leaders fail to recognize that the purpose of meeting together is not to simply exchange information. The goal is to live the Christian faith, not just to talk about the Christian faith.
As you get together in your group, look for things that will alert you to their individual needs so you will be able to better serve them. See “How to Have a Small Group With Purpose” for more on assessing and meeting your group members’ needs.
Use the following questions to help you determine what you will cover during your small group meetings:
Sometimes we make the mistake of simply wanting our small groups to grow because larger numbers seem better. But a group can grow and still never see a single person come to Christ. And often, Christians only invite other Christians, never considering bringing their non-Christian friends. Beware of this trap, and be sure to consider those who don’t know Christ yet as you invite others.
The article “Small Groups That Reach Out: Why It’s Better When You Help Others” has more information about continuing to have an outward-focused mindset as your group progresses.
A small group needs to have at least three people in it. But when does a small group become too large? The answer to that question depends on how well you can meet these important goals:
Everyone can participate.
Learning takes place through dialogue.
People listen and help each other.
Usually, this becomes difficult when a group has 10 or more people.
The apostle Paul was skilled at developing leaders to continue the work of ministry. His words reveal the priority he placed on developing other leaders: “You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others” (2 Timothy 2:2, New Living Translation).
In light of this verse, it is wise to have a co-leader you can work with or an apprentice who can learn from you.
Your prayer should be that your small group would grow to the point that you need to divide into two groups, with your co-leader or apprentice taking on the new group.
You’ll most likely have Christians in your group, but it’s important to invite and welcome people who don’t yet have a relationship with God to join you as well.
See how they can be an important part of your small group, and how you can create an environment where anyone can come and feel safe to explore faith.
Location is key to creating a comfortable, welcoming environment.
If you want to meet in person, make sure each member of the group feels comfortable with that and that you find a location with adequate space to socially distance.
Think about whom you want to invite and what location would be best for them. For example, if you want people who don’t follow Jesus to come, a church may not be the best location to meet. Look for a location close to most of the group members that is easy for people to find and has adequate parking or access to public transportation. Having people over to your home (or another group member’s home) can be a good way to create a comfortable environment.
Check out these suggestions of virtual icebreakers for a fun way to kick off an online small group.
In general, aim to meet for at least one hour but no more than two. Honor your time commitments, especially your commitment to an end time. People have other things to do, and you should avoid (at all costs) becoming the “on-and-on-and-on” group.
You can use your phone throughout the meeting to make sure you’re on track.
First impressions are critical. When people walk into a small group setting for the first time, they often ask three questions (usually subconsciously):
Do I like these people?
Do these people like me?
Do I like what this group is about?
Work hard to give people a positive experience. You can’t please everyone, but ask God for wisdom in showing love and hospitality.
If you are inviting people who aren’t Christians, be clear about what you will be discussing. Don’t mislead them into thinking that you’ll just be hanging out and then suddenly pull out a Bible and say, “Hey, let’s all look at the Bible... ” It will probably be the last time you see them there.
If you are inviting people you don’t personally know (like from a sign-up sheet or contact card), try to personally meet and invite them. If you won’t naturally see them, you can call or text them instead. Be sure to introduce yourself and explain how you got their names and numbers.
Don’t wing your small group meetings. Leaders who don’t plan are ultimately more stressed and can hinder the group’s growth. You can lead a great discussion without a lot of prep, but you need a deliberate plan to discuss and apply the Bible.
For new small groups, it’s always good to focus on the fundamentals of the Christian faith that can benefit everyone, wherever they are spiritually.
Choose a Bible study that is written and structured with a focus on Christ and a goal of heart change— not simply behavior change.
Check out our Bible studies page.
Sometimes we think, “I’ve prepared the passage, I’m ready to go.” Yet there is more to leading a successful small group than what you study. Your job as the leader is to cultivate an environment with the crucial elements of a small group, where relationships will grow between you, the group members and God.
Icebreakers can help the group open up, build trust and get in the mood for a deeper discussion.
Choose one that will lead you into your discussion in that day’s study or one that’s just fun. Just make sure it will help the members of the group to get to know one another. Never underestimate the value of this part of the study.
Prayer can be the glue that holds a small group together or it can be a barrier that keeps people out.
On the one hand, the intimate things that are often shared in a prayer time can draw people together. On the other hand, prayer can be a hurdle for the people new to or exploring Christianity. Feeling pressure to pray out loud (which can happen even if you don’t ask them to) can make people not want to return to a study.
Be sensitive to where people are. Lead by example and invite people to pray in short sentences if they want to. Don’t ever force anyone to pray.
For more ideas on how you can incorporate prayer in your group, check out “How to Lead a Prayer Meeting.”
Snacks are a nice addition to a study. But don’t let them prevent you from thoroughly preparing your content! If preparing snacks is a burden for you, buy them, skip them or, better yet, involve others in the group in the responsibility!
Be there early to review the lesson.
Pray for your time and your group members, and ask the Lord to give you the ability to lead well.
Turn your phone to vibrate to reduce the distractions (but keep it on in case someone gets lost and tries to call you).
Make sure there are plenty of comfortable seats.
Set out snacks.
Send out last minute reminder texts to people.
Begin by introducing people to one another. Don’t delay. Start with your icebreaker and then transition into your study. Be sure to end promptly.
In the first meeting, focus on building relationships. That’s not to say you should minimize the Bible, but if the people in the group don’t know each other, it’s important that they learn more about each other. Read “How to Build Community in Your Small Group” for ideas on how to continue to build community over time.
Read “Your First Group Meeting” for more tips.
Choose an icebreaker for each meeting. Choose icebreakers that will work for both small and large groups. Choose activities that will help people get to know each other but won’t feel intrusive for people who may not feel comfortable opening up right away.
You want your content to have continuity, but you also want each lesson to be able to stand alone if someone misses a meeting or someone new comes. Don’t discourage your group members by making them feel lost if they didn’t make a previous meeting.
At the same time, having a theme or a topic for several weeks in a row can help the group feel more consistent. One idea is to stick to the fundamentals of the Christian faith, which will be accessible to everyone.
If you are working with predetermined content, such as questions based on weekly sermons or a book, make sure that anyone who comes can still participate in the discussion. If someone didn’t hear the sermon or didn’t read the chapter, give a summary at the beginning or write up a summary and give everyone a few minutes to read it before the discussion. Be sure to explain anything that may not be clear during the discussion, such as quotations or references.
Small groups can be a great opportunity for members to invite friends, but group members may not feel comfortable inviting people if guests will have to listen to a sermon or read a chapter from a book to participate.
Remember that the goal of leading a small group is changed lives. How does God usually do this? Memorize this verse: “Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8, New American Standard Bible).
It’s easy to meet and simply discuss information with others, but that’s not the goal. You must be willing to demonstrate God’s love to the people in your group. Be ready for people to share the messy parts of their lives as well as the polished parts. This is the true hard work of leading a small group, but it is the most rewarding part as well.
May God bless your labor. May it be to His glory and His glory alone.
Now that you’ve mapped the strategy for your group:
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Want to know how you can create a safe environment for meaningful connection with a small group you’re leading virtually? Here are some ideas for you.
Several questions may come to mind as you plan your small group. Here are four components that are key to most small groups or Bible studies that will answer your questions.
Life-changing small group environments are less about how-tos and more about experiencing Jesus. They are not focused on building head knowledge but on changing hearts and minds. These communities not only equip their members for service but also expose sin and call people to adore Christ. Christ-centered communities transform lives from the inside out.
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