In a previous blog post I discussed the aspects that are key to growing a healthy church, one of those key aspects of a healthy church is an involved congregation. A healthy church is a multiplying church and a multiplying church is a church that does small groups well. Small groups when done well, have been proven to be very effective in amplifying the churches efforts in making disciples and growing churches. The problem is many churches do not do small groups well. You can rest assured however that it is not for lack of trying. Effort is not the issue but rather the direction at which that effort is applied that plagues the church due to incomplete understanding of how to lead a small group ministry.
In small group leadership there are three positions necessary to ensure a smooth and consistent growth of the ministry within the church. The first is a committed and spiritually mature leader who reflects the model of Jesus Christ to those within the group. As the late Jerry Falwell once stated everything rises and falls on leadership (Dempsey and Earley 2015) and as such the success and health of a small group rests on the shoulders of its leader. Unlike secular leadership, in which people are viewed as resources, the spiritual leader needs to understand that his role is not to use his people but rather to equip them to be leaders themselves in accordance with their gifts, talents and aptitudes (Dempsey and Earley 2015). This is where the second position of a healthy small group comes into play, the small group apprentice. Much like a tradesman apprentice it is the job of this individual to assist the leader in which ever ways the leader deems necessary. This is for the purpose of raising that individual up into the role of small group leader themselves. Without intentionally equipping and raising up new leaders the Church and its small groups will not grow and will not survive long term. For small group ministry to thrive and survive it is paramount that the leadership equip and commission new leaders in the mold of the model demonstrated by Jesus Christ (Bob, Chapman and Guthrie 2013). Finally, all small groups need a host, someone with the gift of hospitality that can arrange for and prepare a location for the group to meet. This position may not be the most spiritual but it is not any less vital to the success of the group as demonstrated Biblically by the hospitality shown to Jesus and his disciples throughout their ministry times as well as the entire book of Acts. Without a place to meet, small groups cannot grow. Much like a farmer needs a field to sow and reap his crops a small group leader needs a place in which he can plant the seeds of ministry and reap new leaders.
According to Dempsey and Earley there are 8 habits of an effective small group leader (Dempsey and Earley 2015). The first is he or she; dreams of leading a healthy, growing and multiplying group, meaning they have a desire to see others grow and mature in their faith and equip them for the role God has called them to. Secondly, they pray for the members of their group daily because they genuinely care for them and want to see them thrive in their daily pursuits. Thirdly an effective leader invites new people to join the group weekly. This is important on two fronts as it expands relationship and builds their sphere on connectivity as well as ensures the groups continuous operation as the new people will take the places vacated by those who were equipped and commissioned to lead their own groups. The fourth habit is the regular contact with group members as this lets the members know they are cared for and not alone. This also creates an open dialog in which the members feel encouraged to seek support for their issues and ask questions due to their leader putting them at ease. Preparation is the fifth habit as once again the success of the group rests on the shoulders of the leader and the group will only operate to the level in which the leader is prepared. As discussed earlier an effective leader mentors an apprentice to take up the mantle of leadership themselves. The seventh habit that effective leaders display is, they plan group fellowship activities. This is important because a healthy group is more than just a spiritual study group a healthy group is one in which its members live life together, they laugh, cry and play together. To be that kind of group intimacy needs to be created and that comes through social interaction. Finally, an effective leader understands that they must take care of their own personal growth as well. A leader cannot effectively lead others into territory they themselves have not first traversed into (Bob, Chapman and Guthrie 2013). Self-care is also part of this as a worn down, stressed out leader will burn out and get overwhelmed making them ineffective (Thomas 2011).
In my own small group ministry, I have found that I have a strength in most of these areas as I have a strong desire for the ministry and desire to equip my members to lead themselves. This desire has lead me to want to spend time with them and talking with them leading to more regular contact and fellowship with them in social settings. I am naturally a relational person, so I am always inviting new people to join the group. Of the 8 habits, the one I spend the most time on is my own personal growth and not only because it is vital to the group but because it is vital to my own health. This area is also the area that I have the most difficulty because I tend to shoulder many of the burdens that my group members bring with them. It is a tendency that I have tried to combat in many ways but consistently find myself dealing with regardless of whatever I attempt.
To quote Dr. Falwell once more, Everything rises and falls on leadership, and if small groups are going to be successful their leadership needs to be strong and lead the way.
Bob, Burns., Tasha Chapman, and Donald Guthrie. Resilient Ministry. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013.
Dempsey, Rod, and Dave Earley. Leading Healty, Growing, Multiplying Small Groups. Lynchburg: Liberty Press, 2015.
Thomas, Gary. Every Body Matters. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.