Community is such an integral part of a fulfilling life. If our lives were lived out in solitude without close relationships, they would not only be lonely, but they would lack much of the meaning we were created for. I am a better man, a better friend, a better husband, and a better father because of the people in my life. People who encourage me, people who challenge me, people who see the best in me. Even people who I don’t see eye to eye with remind me that I am not at the center of the universe and my life is best lived in the service of others.
One of the biggest ways I’ve experienced community has been from small groups. For the last 10 years I’ve been a part of small groups through different churches that have had a huge impact on my life. They go by different names: cell groups, small groups, house churches, life groups – at the heart of all of them is connecting people to live out their faith in community.
I’m helping in the small groups ministry at my church by leading, training, and encouraging our small group leaders. One of the areas we feel like we can do a better job is in training and equipping our leaders so they can be successful. We don’t just want to ask people to lead groups, we want to walk alongside them and give them the tools they need to be great leaders.
So, I’ve volunteered to write some guides to give leaders direction about what it looks like to lead a successful group. I thought I would share about this process as I write to get some feedback and invite others to contribute to this discussion.
Before I jumped head-first into writing, I wanted to get my head around the purpose for small groups and solidify a vision for what they should look like. I began by asking some simple questions about what successful small groups look like and what traits a leader must be developing to lead one effectively.
As a disclaimer, this is not prescriptive for all small groups, it is simply one exploration for our particular context.
What is a small group?
A small group is a group of 8-12 people who have chosen to live in Christian community as they seek to grow in their walk with God and live out their faith in their neighborhoods, workplaces, and homes.
What is the goal?
The goal of small groups is to provide an environment where people can build deep relationships through honesty and vulnerability that challenges them to grow in their walk with God and live out their faith in the world.
What makes a healthy small group?
- It meets consistently
- It builds relationships
- It goes deep
- It transforms lives (through the work of the Holy Spirit)
- It overflows
- It multiplies
What qualities are needed in a leader?
Leadership, as modeled by Jesus, is serving and guiding others self-sacrificially to help them fulfill the purpose God has given them.
Effective leadership is based upon an invitation to relationship and a challenge to change. A gifted discipler is someone who invites people into a covenantal relationship with him or her, but challenges that person to live into his or her true identity in very direct yet graceful ways. Without both dynamics working together, you will not see people grow into the people God has created them to be. -Building a Discipling Culture
- Vibrant relationship with God
- Fervent in prayer for his/her group
- Facilitate discussion that challenges people to respond
- Communicates vision
- Prepares the next generation of leaders
- Takes his/her responsibility seriously
- Prepares for group by prayer and study
I believe the central thing a small group leader needs is a vibrant relationship with God. When a leader is connected to the Father, their passion will overflow into their group and challenge their group to grow deeper with God.
What qualities mark a thriving small group?
- Authentic - A place where people are honest. People open themselves up, confess their sins, admit their struggles, receive grace.
- Maturing - People should be growing. None of us have arrived, all of us are on a journey of maturing into the people God is calling us to be. We don’t have to be perfect, we just have to be pursuing.
- Moving - A people transformed by Jesus should not be standing still. We should be moving together toward bringing about God’s kingdom here on earth. Small groups should be impacting their neighborhoods, workplaces, and homes.
So, what rings true to you? What is missing? What has your experience been? There is much left to explore, but writing this out has helped me get a better picture of what small groups are supposed to be and what is needed to make them successful in helping people grow in their relationship with God and others.
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