Starting a small group is an exciting thing! There is no better place for people to build relationships, study the Bible together, pray together, and pursue God’s mission. Small groups are amazing life experiences that will give you friends for a lifetime.
So now you want to start one. You have a vision and a passion and you feel like you’re ready to just dive right in. This is precisely the point where you should pause. Yes, that’s right. Pause. Don’t send out those invitations just yet. Instead, take a moment to consider a few questions before you pull the trigger on the group you are wanting to start.
As you pray and ask God if you are supposed to start or lead a group, ask these five questions. If you can answer “Yes” to all five questions, then you are ready to lead a group.
I have heard a lot of opinions about the ideal frequency of small group gatherings. Most groups meet every week, but I have also seen some that meet every other week. I even knew some guys in college that met every morning before they began their day. To be honest, every other week is probably too spread out. It will be hard to get momentum in your group only meeting twice a month. And meeting every day just isn’t sustainable. The groups that last and make the deepest impact seem to meet weekly. So the first thing you have to ask yourself is, “Am I ready to commit the time?” You will need to be the first person to arrive and last to leave. You also will need to be present at your group’s mission projects, outside events, church leadership trainings, and one-on-one meetings with group members.
I was once at a church that had a laser focus on unchurched people and used a specific curriculum for all of its groups. I had a friend (we’ll call him Mike) who came from a previous ministry that used Sunday school classes, but our church used a home groups model and advocated for the curriculum chosen by our pastor. Right or wrong, this was the model that the church had chosen, and it did fit with the vision our pastor had cast. My friend (the new small group leader) complained about the way we did small groups at our church and chose to ignore the curriculum and do his own thing. Eventually, our pastor had to confront him.
Mike came to me later saying that he felt like our pastor was trying to control him, but when I asked Mike if he had even tried giving the pastor’s vision a chance, he admitted that he had not. Basically, Mike just wasn’t teachable. Sadly, if he had asked more questions early on and been willing to adjust his approach just slightly, he would have had a better experience. Even more, if Mike had expressed his concerns before he started leading a group, our pastor might have been willing to compromise a little, but we’ll never know. Instead, Mike created disunity in our church because he ignored our pastor’s vision. He wanted to build his own kingdom instead of the church’s and, ultimately, the greater Kingdom.
My advice is to talk to your pastor/director and see if s/he has a specific vision for small groups. Most pastors have prayed and thought carefully about the sort of group that will be a long-term fit for the church. So ask a LOT of questions. And be willing to adjust your approach. I would also add that if you’re already a small group leader at your church and you can relate to Mike, it’s never too late to learn.
Since coming to Nashville to plant ECHO, I have become a huge advocate for apprenticeship. We have seen this one thing become a crucial element of our DNA and it is beginning to show significant traction. What do I mean when I say “apprenticeship.” I mean discipleship in the truest sense, the sort of relationship where a person isn’t just receiving coaching, biblical knowledge, or counseling, but training in the skill set of doing ministry. Apprenticeship in a small group means choosing at least one person who you will personally mentor in the ways of small group leadership. If you choose an apprentice and train him/her well, you will be able to send them out to start a new group in six to twelve months, or even hand off your group to them to lead it themselves.
Discipleship is not merely about knowing things. It is about doing what Jesus says. For this reason, your small group should ask itself often, “Are we putting our faith into action?” Yes, you are human beings, not human doings. But you are also Bible doers, not merely Bible hearers. (James 1:22) Ask yourself, “Am I willing to do whatever it takes to teach group participants to invite their friends, love people no matter what, and live as missionaries outside of our group times?”
Small groups should never exist for themselves. Every leader must be committed to multiplying his/her group within 6 months to 1 year by either sending an apprentice leader or passing the baton and starting a new group themselves.
Imagine if every small group did this. A single small group could multiply to two, then those two can multiply two more, making four. After four, eight, then sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four, and so on…
Within only a few years, you will have done more than start a small group. You will have sparked a movement.
Can you answer “Yes” to these five questions? If so, I cannot guarantee that you’re ready to start a small group. But I can guarantee that you’re closer than you think. You don’t have to know a lot to be a great small group leader. You just have to commit to a few basic principles.
I am a husband, speaker, church planter, and coach. I help people and pastors with big dreams learn how to awaken God’s dream for their lives so they can have a lasting and meaningful impact on the world.