Excerpt from Leading Healthy Groups By Allen White Copyright (c) 2018.
I suppose if you’re going to lead a healthy small group, it would be a good idea to know what a healthy one looks like. Plenty of examples come to mind of unhealthy groups — groups where one member dominates the discussion; groups that have great Bible studies, but don’t live out what they’ve learned; groups that become unto themselves and never attempt to reach others; and groups that just hang out, but really don’t ever move in any direction. But, our focus is on health, not the opposite.
Healthy groups fully accept every member.
Every person matters to God and should matter to your group. Some group members might be a little rough around the edges or challenging to meet with, but none are less important or more important than anyone else. God has a reason for putting them in your group. Groups have to accept people where they are, because they can’t accept them anywhere else, can they? Acceptance is communicated through listening and giving equal time. Acceptance is expressed through intentionally getting to know those who are different from you instead of instantly gravitating toward those you are fonder of. Jesus directed groups this way, when he said, “Love one another” (John 13:34) and “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Jesus modeled this in who he associated with: tax collectors like Matthew; sinners like adulterers and bad hand washers; Samaritans who were racially different; and many others who the religious establishment looked down upon. Acceptance is one of the most precious gifts any person can give another. Healthy groups accept others.
Healthy groups center themselves on God’s Word, the Bible.
One of the key purposes of a healthy group is to become more like Christ. Every group has three powerful resources at their disposal to grow in Christlikeness: the Bible, the Spirit, and the group. Paul writes, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). This transformation takes place through each person’s willingness to surrender, the direction of Scripture, the power of the Spirit, and the support of the group. These ideas will be more thoroughly explained in Chapter 5. Regardless of the type of group you lead, these elements are essential for healthy groups to make disciples.
Healthy groups are serious about helping their members grow.
(and group members are open to receiving help). This could involve encouragement and support to start a good habit or break a bad one. This can also involve confronting sin in the lives of their members. For most people, encouragement is much more appealing that confrontation. While the group should accept people as they are, the group should also love them enough not to leave them there. As the group grows in their relationship with others and their relationship with God, the group cannot shy away from hard things. Healthy groups are serious about help.
Healthy groups live like Jesus was serious about what he said.
When Jesus told his disciples that out of 633 laws in Scripture only two rose above the rest: love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-39), he intended for his followers to love God and love others above all else. Jesus wants his followers today to treat “the least of these – the hungry, the naked, the prisoner, and others who lack basic needs” as if they were serving Jesus himself (Matthew 25:31-46). While taking all of Scripture into account, Jesus wants his disciples to surrender themselves to God and live life in a selfless way. He wants his followers to “go and make disciples,” baptize them, and teach them to obey all Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). What if these weren’t just suggestions for better living? What if these weren’t merely nice platitudes where you could hit a mental “like” button? What if Jesus was serious about what he said? What if he expects his followers to actually do it? Obeying Jesus is a sign of group health.
Healthy groups are on mission.
The group is not just about itself. Groups members should constantly seek out people they and the group can serve. Who is the next person to invite? What neighbor needs help? Where can the group serve together locally or globally? Sometimes the greatest coping strategy for dealing with life’s woes is to focus on someone other than you. When groups align their mission with Jesus’ mission, they benefit from walking in obedience to Jesus’ commands. They benefit those who they serve. But, most of all, they benefit themselves with not only the blessing of obedience, but with a new depth of understanding God’s teaching through their experiences.
Healthy groups multiply.
This is not a popular topic among small groups in North American culture where groups want to stay together forever. I both understand and respect that desire. It’s natural to form a bond and “keep the family together.” But, it’s supernatural to think of others and the groups they will need. I don’t mean to sound spooky, but our connection to God is supernatural. His guidance through prayer and the Bible is supernatural. This makes identifying and developing new leaders possible. This causes hearts to change in favor of every disciple making disciples. To reach the world, and especially the next generation, this sort of selflessness is required. Every group should seek God about its direction and its future.
Your group may find other values in addition to these that you desire to integrate into your group life. You can certainly add these to your Group Agreement. But, don’t replace any of the priorities mentioned here.
That’s a lot to think about. These are things to focus on and strive toward. The accomplishment of all of these things will take a lifetime. But, on the other hand, nothing will ever be accomplished if you don’t start today. Today is both the culmination of what your life has become and the first step toward what you life will be. Your group is a big part of that.
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By Allen White
In conversations with small group pastors from some of the largest small group ministries in the country, I’ve learned that many have completely given up on coaching group leaders. Others are on the other extreme and hire coaches. Whether your approach is the “phone-a-friend” method or the metachurch model, here are some reasons coaching is significant.
More Group Leaders Will Quit BEFORE a Study Begins that After.
From the moment someone offers to be a Leader/Host/Friend and start a group, they need a coach. I have seen more potential group leaders stall between the invitation to lead and the start of the study than at any point in the process. Most groups who actually do the first study or first semester will continue on, but groups that fail to start tend to not continue.
It is mission critical for a leader to have a coach from when they say “Yes,” until the end of the study. You may ask, “But, what about the rest of our group leaders?” Here’s the deal, if your other groups have survived without a coach, put that on the back burner and start coaching your new leaders now.
People Hate Meetings.
You’re probably frustrated that your group leaders don’t show up for your training. The short of it is people simply hate meetings, especially when the topics don’t affect them. How do you train your leaders if they won’t come to meetings? Coach them.
Rather than coaches being your spies or your report-takers, have the coaches train the group leaders on what the leaders actually need training on. It’s not cookie cutter. It’s customized to what the leader is currently facing. If you are answering the questions your leaders are asking, then they will become very interested in training. But, what is training?
What if training, especially on-going training, is not a note sheet and a PowerPoint presentation? Training could be a short video emailed out to your leaders. Training could be a short conversation. Training could be solving a current problem. Training should come from the coach.
But, if the coaches do the training, what do small group pastors/ directors do? Train the coaches and build a small group team. By working at a higher level in your small group structure, you can have a greater impact and get much further faster.
You Can’t Successfully Coach More than 8 Leaders Yourself.
Why eight? That’s my number. I tried to coach 30 leaders once. There’s wasn’t much coaching going on. What I discovered is eight is great. In a church under 1,000 adults, your eight might be your coaches or small group team. In a church over 1,000 adults, your eight is definitely a small group team. Just follow the pattern Jethro gave Moses in Exodus 18.
Let’s face it – most small group pastors/ directors wear more hats than just small group ministry. If that’s the case with you, then you certainly can’t coach all of your leaders by yourself. Consider your best and brightest leaders. Could they coach? Let them give it a try.
But, there’s a much bigger reason to invest in coaching – you won’t always have as many groups as you currently have. You’re going to have more! How are you going to serve your group leaders when you have twice as many as you have now? It happened to me in one day! Plan for where you want your groups to grow. Recruit coaches even before you recruit leaders!
Coaching will make all of the difference in both starting and supporting group leaders. No doubt building a coaching structure is the hardest work of small group ministry.
The only thing harder is not having one.
By Allen White
As a new group leader, there are a few things to think about as you go into your first meeting. In fact, there may be too many things to think about. Focus on the basics and you will have a great first meeting.
As the leader of this group, you don’t have to be the expert. If you’re using video-based curriculum, there’s your expert, so let the video teaching lead the way. Otherwise, just follow along with the instructions in your study guide. But, before the meeting it’s a good idea to review the video and the discussion questions yourself. The videos are only 7-8 minutes long, then just read through the questions.
If you find your group doesn’t have time to complete the entire discussion guide, that’s ok. Prioritize the questions for the time you have available. As you get to know the group, choose questions that are appropriate for the group. If your group has been together for a while, or if your group members are well beyond the basics of parenting, then maybe skip the first question, and go for the second question which is maybe more of an accountability question regarding what they committed to do in the previous meeting.
Pray for Your Group.
If you feel anxious about leading the group or even inadequate, that is perfectly normally, especially if you are leading for the first time. The Bible says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV). So how often should you pray? Pray every time you feel anxious. God will give you peace.
The video and discussion guide are pretty easy to use. It’s practically a no brainer. But, just because the curriculum is easy to use, doesn’t mean you should go into the meeting “cold” spiritually. Commit the meeting to God. Invite His presence into your meeting, then watch Him work.
Guiding the Discussion – Not a teacher, more of a referee.
While everyone should have a chance to share their thoughts and experiences, as the leader your job is to facilitate a discussion, not to teach a class. You want to make sure everyone gets their word in. You also want to make sure no one dominates the discussion. If someone tends to jump in on every question, politely say, “Now, on this next question let’s hear from a few of you who haven’t had a chance to share.” If the person dominating the meeting continues to do this, then you might need to talk to them outside of the group meeting.
Since you as the leader prepared ahead of time for the lesson, don’t count on all of the group members preparing ahead for this meeting. Remember, they are assigned two extensive lessons in the workbook each week. When you ask the discussion questions, it may take the group members a couple of seconds to put their thoughts together. That’s ok. Don’t feel you that as the leader you need to fill the silence. Let them think a minute.
Praying Together as a Group.
Habits are hard to break and sometimes hard to start. Changing attitudes and behaviors requires more than just will power. It requires God’s power. At the end of every meeting subgroup into groups of 3-4 people, so everyone can talk about their needs, and then pray together. In a large group, some people won’t share, and it will take a much longer time, so subgrouping is necessary.
Also, limit the prayer requests to what is personally affecting the group member. Now, they may be concerned about Aunt Gertrude’s big toe or something they read about on the internet, but this really isn’t the place to discuss that. As much as you can keep the focus of the prayer time on the changes group members need to make related to their parenting style.
Ask for Volunteers.
Don’t lead the group alone. Just because you are the designated leader, you do not need to do everything for the group. In fact, delegate as much as you possibly can: the refreshments, the home you meet in, and even leading the discussion. If you do this right, you might only need to lead for the first session, then others will lead for the rest.
As group members become more involved in the leadership, they will feel a stronger sense of ownership in the group. Pretty soon the group will go from being “your group” to being “our group.”
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