Small Group Leader Tips

Leading a small group is hard. These tips might help.

TIP 01

Folks who are new to faith or new to group often think there’s a right answer to discussion questions—or at least a few wrong things to say. So, they show up and listen in, but don’t feel permission to say what’s really on their minds. As the leader, you can change that by setting an example of honest, vulnerable answers.

For example: In The Bible for Grown-ups, the second discussion question is: How do you feel about the Bible today? There are lots of easy ways to answer this (e.g., “I feel blessed, reverent, or challenged”). But if you were to ask yourself what response would spark the most meaningful conversation, you might choose a more unguarded answer like, “I feel overwhelmed. When I’m looking for spiritual counsel, sometimes it’s hard to know where to look.” Or “I feel guilty because the Bible should be my go-to for wisdom, and yet. . .”

Sharing with this level of vulnerability sets the tone and gives permission for everyone—regardless of spiritual maturity—to respond authentically. So, the next time you notice your group on their best behavior, try leading out with some risky honesty.

TIP 02

You may be jazzed about making your group of strangers into a group of friends. Or, maybe the responsibility of that is totally overwhelming. That’s okay too. While technology can sometimes get a bad rep for preventing true relationships, we’ve found that it can be harnessed for some good when it comes to group. Using a group texting app like GroupMe or WhatsApp makes it easier than ever to send quick logistical updates, share prayer requests, or just check in with someone mid-week. People join a group because they want to be known. Connecting beyond your once weekly meeting communicates to your group members that I see you and I’m thinking about you.

TIP 03

Ever find yourself a few weeks in to a study and it’s just not working? You may be tempted to gut through it—hoping it will get better or afraid to acknowledge that it’s been a dud. The problem with gutting through a study that no one’s excited about is that people stop looking forward to group. And when people are less excited about showing up, it’s easier to justify not being there with excuses like I had a long work day or I just need one night this week with no evening obligations.

So, try to tune in to how everyone is feeling about the study and the conversation it creates. It’s totally fine to call it quits. Move on to a new topic or use one of the free studies on the Anthology app. Anthology has dozens of videos with free discussion guides (which means zero prep for you).

TIP 04

We love marrieds groups. We also know that mixed company limits the amount of authentic sharing that happens in a marrieds group. That’s why it’s a good idea to split the men and the women up every now then. Meet in different homes or just different rooms. It’s not uncommon to uncover struggling marriages, parenting challenges, or even addiction once you’ve shrunk the circle. As the group leader, pastoring through those types of issues is what will help grow your faith and truly make the group life-changing.

TIP 05

Some people are more than happy to chime in to a conversation. But plenty of others need a bit of time to process. With a little bit of effort, you can make it a lot easier for those members of your group to share. The most surprising way we’ve seen this happen is by using Story Cards.

Story Cards have photos you can spread on the table and question prompts to get your group talking. You ask the question and everyone chooses a card that captures their answer. There’s something so helpful—for introverts and extroverts alike—about having a card to jump start their response.

TIP 06

A good group study will start conversations that create connection, but sometimes finding those resources can be a challenge. Since the interests and needs of the individuals within your group will vary (oftentimes greatly!), the topics your group covers should as well. Ask the group what types of things they’d like to discuss, and then start a list of books, sermon series, and studies to have handy when it’s time to choose a new topic. (Remember that people will be at all different points in their faith journey, so make sure to include resources that reflect the dynamic of your group.) Reach out to other leaders, read reviews online, or check out the Anthology app for ideas. Covering subjects suggested by members will keep your group engaged and excited, and being prepared with resources in advance will keep you sane.

TIP 07

You don’t have to have all the answers. (Whew, do you feel relieved? You should!) Groups are made of people, and people are made of…well, all sorts of complex stuff. Because everyone comes to group with unique and varied needs, you might find that certain people are in situations or have questions that require more than community and an empathetic ear. Remember, groups are great places to converse, to question, and to connect, but they’re not the only environment the church has to offer. Find out what additional resources and programs your church offers and share them with those who might need special attention or trained professionals.

TIP 08

Whether you feel overwhelmed or overjoyed to lead a group, remember that as you lead, you have to care for yourself too. It’s likely you’ve heard the idea of filling up your own bucket before trying to fill up others’, and it’s true: The best way to prepare to lead a group is to tend to your own spirituality first. So what does that mean? Find time to challenge and grow your own relationship with God: Read. Pray. Seek wise counsel. Reflect. Don’t ignore your own faith in the name of helping others grow because no matter how hard it tries, an empty bucket can’t water a garden.

TIP 09

One of the biggest objections people give to being in a group is that they simply “don’t have time.” We get it—in today’s world, there are a million things demanding space in our schedule, and being in a group can seem just like another thing on the To-Do List. However, being in community can be one of the best, most impactful things a person can do with their time, so make group night consistent and reliable. Unpredictable things eventually become undesirable things, so set start and end times and stick to them. We honor our group members by honoring their time—one of the easiest steps we can take toward creating a successful group.

TIP 10

It is so tempting as the leader to fill every pause in the group conversation with words.

{Insert long, awkward pause.}

Okay, now that that’s over…Remember that, particularly as the group works on getting comfortable with one another, uncomfortable silences are bound to happen. So let them! One of the most powerful tools you have as a leader is a long pause. When no one speaks, everyone in the group feels the pressure, and many times pressure can move a group in a productive direction. A pause gives space for quieter people to break into the conversation; silence allows people to figure out exactly what they would like to say; a lull ensures that everyone has had the chance to express everything they were thinking. So, as uncomfortable as you may feel, don’t always be the one to break the silence.

TIP 11

You will absolutely get questions you don’t know the answer to. Own it. You’ll earn trust and credibility when you openly acknowledge your own limitations. You’ll earn even more if you enlist the help of others to find the answer! Your role in the group isn’t to teach. Your role is to facilitate great discussion.

TIP 12

Sometimes people can feel intimidated by the idea of sharing a personal prayer request. I mean, does God really care about my cat’s eye surgery? If you’re having trouble getting people to share, try rephrasing the question to something like “how can we encourage you this week?”

TIP 13

For some of us, getting through all of the questions in the leader guide feels like we’ve checked all the boxes and followed the “directions.” But zipping through all those questions could cost you some really meaningful group conversation. Sometimes, things can go in a different, but really great direction. Feel the freedom to follow the discussion to allow group members to share. Then create a safe place by trying to ask three follow up questions about the topic before sharing your own opinion.

TIP 14

Not all questions have to be answered by the end of group. Not all tensions have to be resolved either. Many times group members are asking for a solution, but what they need is a struggle. Growth happens from wrestling with questions and considering new perspectives. The group leader's role isn't to make sure everyone agrees or leaves with all of the right answers. Instead of directly answering a question, ask the same question back. Challenge group members to know why they believe, not just what they believe. That is rarely accomplished in an hour.

TIP 15

Doing activities as a group is one of the best ways to build deeper trust in the relationships of the people you're trying to share life with. A phrase that captures why this is so crucial is: "We're working to build the bridge of trust so that it's strong enough to bear the weight of truth." The moments of transparency and accountability are easier to navigate when trust exists between the group members! (Pro tip: carpool EVERY chance you get as a group! The best inside jokes come from riding together when you're going somewhere—even if it's just going for a Wendy's run!)

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