Friday, July 25, 2008

Five Things that Leading Small Groups Has Taught Me

By Teena Stewart

Small groups provide a surrogate family of sorts where you can share slices of your daily life, including tough struggles, while gleaning Biblical principals to live by. I have lead and participated in small groups for many years, but this year was the first year I lead a small group for women only. What a wonderful surprise it was to bond with these ladies and pick up tidbits of wisdom from them.

I went with the usual expectations of a leader but soon learned that I was getting back as much as I was giving. Here are some things small group leadership and participation has taught me.

First, there really is strength in numbers. Many people today feel disconnected because they live away from extended family. Small groups are the family many of us need. The most unhappy and critical people I know in churches are usually those who are not plugged in. They are not volunteering in any capacity and haven’t connected with a small group community. What a shame. I wish I could show them what they are missing.

When people join small groups they enter immediately into network of support. This adopted family is there to help us share how our week went, to offer encouragement when we are unemployed, to care for us when we, or a family member, are sick or hospitalized, and to share from wealth of life survival techniques and biblical knowledge.

Second, group members can teach you how to persevere. I have seen various small group members go through severe trials from job loss, health issues and even divorce. In my current women’s group there is a member who has battled to overcome cancer for several years. Trish is the most positive person I know. She never complains and her attitude inspires me to hold onto my faith even through the difficult times. With members like this as role models, I realize that God is there for me to see me through even the toughest circumstances.

Third, groups are a safe place to share confidential concerns. What is divulged in my small group stays in my small group, unless I ask members to share it with others. What a precious gem to have someone to share deep struggles with. A healthy small group will provide a safe environment where members feel free to open up and talk about difficulties and to pray for each other.

When I told my women’s group that my husband, Jeff, and I would be relocating to start a new coffee shop ministry, they understood it would require a huge leap of faith including the sale of our home in a depressed housing market. One group member made it her duty to check in with me weekly and ask how I was doing. Whenever I replied, “fine,” she’d respond with “really?” It was her way of letting me know that she would lend a listening ear to pray for specific concerns.

Fourth, each member has unique gifts and passions. I’m amazed at how God has gifted each member. Everyone has unique skills, abilities and passions. Whenever possible I try to utilize those gifts for the benefit of the group. Those who have the gift of hospitality are encouraged to share their passion for cooking and hosting the group and special events. Those with the gift of administration are encouraged and given the freedom to plan social events or benevolence opportunities and so forth.

Five, leading a group is easier than it looks. Many people avoid starting a small group or stepping into small group leadership because they believe being a leader requires a certain amount of expertise or skill. Some small group leaders are natural leaders, others have a gift for teaching, but you don’t necessarily need those skills to facilitate a small group. Notice I say “facilitate” and not “lead.” Here’s the difference: Much of the duties of a small group can and, in my opinion, should be shared.

Your role as facilitator is to make sure the group runs smoothly, and to find ways to help others contribute to the welfare of the whole group. This allows you to develop them as leaders. For instance, many of the small groups I have facilitated met in different homes. I established this from the start, asking members at our first meeting to take turns hosting. This gave people the confidence to try other duties once they had hosted and, more importantly, it prevented me from having to do everything.

Some people are natural leaders. Others prefer to stay in the background. By allowing my small group members to share duties, I develop their leadership potential and build confidence.
If you are not currently in a small group I encourage you to join one. If you are considering starting a small group, step out with confidence. You won’t be leading alone. Before you know it your group members will be teaching and ministering to you.

Teena Stewart is a published author whose ministry-related articles have appeared in numerous magazines. Her new book, “Successful Small Groups from Concept to Practice,” was published in November, 2007. To read more about Teena’s ministry and writing visit