Are You Ready for Some … um, Small Groups?

You can feel it and smell it, can’t you? Yep, it’s in the air! Butterflies are in your stomach and sweat forms on your palms. And you’re counting down the hours till your first meeting. You guessed it — it’s the start of another season of … (drum roll please) … small groups. (And you thought I was talking football, didn’t you?)

Okay, so that’s a tad exaggerated. Still, at First Family Church, the bottom line is true — this month begins another season of small group discipleship within our spiritual family. So I thought I’d share a simple formula that has guided me for many years when it comes to being a flexible yet directive small group leader. And make no mistake — in a small group, a leader who is both flexible and directive is essential and effective.

Here’s why: Because small groups hinge on relationships, there has to be enough room for you and your group to swing in a number of directions, depending on the ambiance and emotional flavor of the meeting each week. Thus, you need flexibility.

However, because content is vital and leadership crucial, you can’t abandon the responsibility to take your group in a pre-defined direction toward maturity. Hence, the need for clear direction.

See what I mean? A flexible yet directive leader is more than a luxury; it is a necessity.

Here’s a general protocol for small group leaders that allows for both flexibility and direction, a personal and mental “flow chart” of action verbs that, regardless of the time allotted for the group, can keep you balanced between needs (flexibility) and goals (direction).

1. Take the lead. When it’s time to start, start! If your group simply gathers for 20 minutes as a break-out session during a lesson, be the first to get up and move towards your group. If you meet exclusively during the week at a home, act as the greeter and host. Regardless of these logistics, clearly take the lead, both visibly and verbally, from the beginning. Don’t wait. Act!

This doesn’t mean you should become a dictator with your authority; it simply implies you should become disciplined with your influence. Key word: Example.

2. Set the tone. Most groups rise to the emotional level the leader portrays at the beginning. With that in mind, how has the emotional temperature of your group been lately? More than likely, it has resembled yours! Exert your influence beyond the starting gate; use it to rightly affect the emotions and feelings present during the group throughout your time together. How? Clearly identify what is expected. Whether it’s reflection, laughter, discussion, or study, no one else so concretely affects the attitude of the group than the leader. And it’s through your body language, not just your verbal words, that your expectations are communicated. Use both to set the standard for what’s ahead. Key word: Expectations

3. Listen and love. All groups, at some point in every meeting, learn. Whether learning is your ultimate focus or a secondary by-product, the attaining of knowledge takes place in every small group meeting. As they learn from you and you learn from them, allow 2-way communication and dialogue. Encourage questions. Love them through their misconceptions and preconceived ideas. And don’t interrupt someone’s struggle to answer, either. Retention increases when, in a loving environment, people grapple with issues and experience the process of discovering scriptural solutions. Because more is caught than taught, help your group members create a large net by consistently listening and loving throughout the learning process. Key word: Education

4. Affirm and re-focus. With the meeting nearing an end, and the investigation, discussion, and applications coming to a close, take a proactive and positive approach and affirm your group, bringing their attention back to their basic purpose. Perhaps you should restate your group’s contract or purpose statement. Maybe you should corporately re-commit to another week of living out the values of your small group. Or perhaps you should remind them of the next scheduled meeting. In any case, never let your time end without a narrow, single-minded summation of your group’s mission, as well as a word of personal encouragement to every member/family. Key word: Encouragement

Memorize this simple formula, using it as a guide for each of your meetings: Be an example, identify expectations, facilitate education, and express encouragement. Combined with your own specifics, you’ll be able to stay on course while remaining flexible, a profitable combination for every group.

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