Small Group Leader Self-Care

Spiritual leaders must take decisive action to be healthy in order to be prepared to confront the inevitable temptations, personal attacks, potential burnout and other hazards of the ministry. These ten recommendations are relevant for all small group leaders and coaches who want to be healthy and effective in ministry for the long-haul.

  1. Read & Reflect on God’s Word Daily

Contend for a daily devotional life. Not only will this secure your healthy growth, but it will ensure the healthy development of biblical community in your group (Psalm 119:105). A group’s life together will likely only go as deep as the life of its leader. If you do not already have an ongoing devotional life, start small and develop it incrementally. Here’s an interesting fact: Sheep feed on dew that collects on grass very early in the morning and the water these creatures slurp up at dawn satisfies them through the whole sun-scorching day (Psalm 5:3). Give God the first fruit of your time, and find your strength in Him (Psalm 119:114, 147).

  1. Pray Daily

Talk with God and listen for His guidance each day. The more you cultivate a closeness with your Creator, the healthier you will be for your own well-being, your family, and everyone you influence in life. Be mindful of how He is always with you and will never leave you (Deuteronomy 31:8). This will help you to be more conscientious and inclined to communicate with God repeatedly throughout the day rather than it being a ritual that happens just once a day (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer is key to having a growing relationship with the Lord, which is what God wants far more than anything else from us.

  1. Invite a Few Trusted Friends to Pray for You

You and your group are a target of the enemy and prayer coverage is an absolute must. Ask a few trusted friends to pray for you and your family regularly, especially those you know are faithful to intercede in prayer for others. Make a point to give them an update and share specific things to pray about at the beginning, middle, and end of each season of your group’s life together. There’s no season in ministry where we don’t need someone to stand in the gap for us.

  1. Replenish Yourself Regularly

Take refuge in Jesus. When you feel like your energy level is beginning to wane, let your selfcare2co-leader or a friend in your group know. If you’ve already met as a group for a few seasons, you might let your whole group know. Invite them to pray for you and carry responsibilities that have begun to be taxing on you. Don’t make the group “your ministry.” Ministry should be mutual and happening among all group participants. If it isn’t, instigate change! Get away at times, find rest, and be sure you’re regularly participating in the worship and teaching offered in your weekend (temple courts) service. Honoring the Sabbath each week is just the beginning.

  1. Recognize God’s Work

Remembering what the Lord has done and is doing builds your faith and the faith of those around you. I need to continually remind myself of who God is and His promises to stay strong. For example, I can plant and water, but God is the one who makes things grow (1 Cor 3:5-7). I can use my gifts and abilities to build up the Church, but God is the one who is actually building it in such a way that hell itself won’t triumph over it (1 Cor 12:7; Mt 16:18). I also like to recall that God’s Word is fully inspired, living and active and does its work in people as they engage with it (2 Tim 3:16; Heb 4:12). Recognizing how God is already at work within your group is worshipful and helps to develop a more spiritually mature perspective in those around you.

  1. Resist Getting in the Middle of Conflict Prematurely

If someone comes to you with a complaint about another, find out right away if they’ve spoken with the other person first (Matthew 18:15). If they haven’t, redirect them to talk with the person they’re having tension with. If the first condition has been met, do not entertain an accusation made about another individual unless it is brought to you by at least one other, independent source (Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1b).

  1. Draw Appropriate Boundaries

Be available to your group members, but lovingly draw boundaries when necessary. God wants you to be whole just as much as He does others and ultimately self-care is obedience to Him. It’s also okay to set time limits on phone conversations or one-on-one meetings you have with group members; just let them know at the outset of your conversation that you have up until a certain time that you’re able to connect with them.

  1. Don’t Meet Alone with the Opposite Sex

Spiritual leaders must avoid every appearance of evil for their sake and for the sake of others (Romans 15:2; 1 Corinthians 10:24, 32-33; 1 Thessalonians 5:22). Wisdom is not putting yourself in a situation where you could stumble (1 Cor. 6:18; 2 Tim 2:22) so if someone of the opposite sex wants to meet outside your group time, let them know your spouse, co-leader or a trusted group member will join you too. It’s not about being religious or legalistic – it’s being prudent (Proverbs 27:12).

  1. Don’t Try to Do Everything Yourself

Empower others in your group to help carry the responsibilities that come with leading a group and identify a co-leader who can team up with you sooner than later. Give them small tasks to begin with that ideally align with areas or gifting or interest that they have.

  1. Don’t Try to Please Everyone

You’ve undoubtedly heard it said before, and it’s absolutely true: You can’t please everyone! You will become depleted and discouraged if you try. If somebody is not happy with your leadership or the group, talk directly with them about it, pray together, and trust the Holy Spirit with the outcome. Release the person, letting them know it’s okay to agree to disagree and for them to go a different direction. Keep your coach informed of any challenges like this so they can support you and help mediate next steps. Your concern needs to be for the whole group so don’t let one person derail the vision God has given you for it.

Remember: You’re serving God on behalf of the group (not the other way around). The Lord wants to grow you through your experience as a group leader…not use you up and leave you on empty so be sure to take care of yourself! Your life and leadership will be stronger as a result.

Welcoming Spiritual Seekers (Part 2 of 2)

You could say that a big part of a small group leader’s job is creating an environment where biblical community can flourish! This includes hospitality elements like greeting, seating, and food that help people to feel more ‘at home’, but it’s also about the way you pilot the group dynamics so that newcomers, or those who are exploring Christianity, feel included and accepted. We will now explore additional ways you can welcome newcomers/seekers with an emphasis on facilitating spiritual conversations.

11. Don’t over-accommodate. You can be sensitive to your group’s form without changing its Just be yourself and allow the group to be itself. For example, don’t hesitate to pray or worship in your group if newcomers / seekers are present. (Sometimes this is exactly what God uses to gather lost people to Himself – see Acts 2:46-47.) Just be natural about it and use everyday language as opposed to being churchy or religious in how you express things just because you happen to be in a Christian gathering. If somebody needs prayer, pray for them. If you are going to worship, just do it. Don’t attempt to explain it for seekers. They want to see things how they really are and would rather not have you disrupt the flow of what you do on their account.

12. Express solidarity with seekers through prayer. When your group prays together, thank God for everyone present and for how He is meeting every person right where they’re at in their spiritual journey. Then punctuate your prayer by asking the Lord to help each person encourage one another grow closer to Jesus. What you are doing is putting everyone on equal-footing and entrusting the power of spiritual influence to the Lord.

13. Find out what subjects your truth-searching guests have an enthusiasm or expertise in and talk about that! People like to talk about things they know about. Seekers will feel more empowered and comfortable talking about things of interest to them. If you listen with interest, you will show that you are interested in them as a person and they will not feel like a project.

14. In private, let seekers know how much you appreciated them coming and that you really hope you get to see them again. Unless they have a friend who brought them, make yourself available to talk anytime.

15. Most guests like to be acknowledged – they just don’t like to stand out or be spotlighted in front of a group…so don’t focus on them. If you keep things normal, the group will feel more natural and comfortable to newcomers.

16. Help seekers get to know others in your group. The more people your guests sense a possible connection with, the more likely it is they will want to return. Research has shown the possibility of a visitor joining a church is reduced by at least 50% with each passing week. This trend also holds true for small groups and can be inverted by the same proportion if guests experience the hope of developing healthy friendships. In other words, the likelihood of seekers returning increases by at least 50% if they experience a sense of belonging through their connection with others. This can be cultivated by highlighting things your truth-searching guests hold in common with other group members and timely follow-up.

17. Talk about how you would like for your group to make a difference in your community. Have that conversation spontaneously or just say you would like to talk about it next time. This allows you to revisit your group’s commitment to outreach and shows seekers that your group is…

  • Outward-thinking and it’s not all about those in the group – this actually helps guests feel safer because it makes the communal nature of the group feel less cultic and more caring.
  • Serious about making a commitment to share God’s love and grace to a waiting world. People want their lives to make a positive impact on others. This helps them to see that your small group can help toward this goal, making group-time a worthwhile investment of their

18. Do not offer advice for how your seeking guests can grow. That might sound funny for those who like to be helpful. The reason is because some people on the receiving end of such good advice might interpret it as homework and think you will be checking-up with them at the next meeting or they might even jump to the conclusion that you’re judging them in some way. You might be surprised how this inhibits people from returning, especially if they did not act on your advice or experience the results they assume you want them to have.

19. Follow-up with guests before your next meeting. Let them know you hope to see them again. If a seeker came with somebody, encourage their friend to welcome them back. Sometimes group leaders hold off from following up in this way because they are afraid of being intrusive or coming across as pushy. Guests appreciate this act of kindness and it makes your group more inviting overall. If you do not risk the remote possibility of coming across as intrusive in your follow-up, seekers/newcomers may feel like they are

20. After a gathering where you had spiritual seekers visit your group, write down facts about them or prayer requests they shared. Find a way to revisit these things when you follow-up with them and naturally weave them into your conversation. This shows you were listening and that you care, which has a powerful effect in drawing guests into your group’s community life.

21. Last but not least, decide as a group to be “open” and ready to welcome spiritual seekers and always encourage personal evangelism. Small groups provide so many opportunities and so much encouragement for outreach. You want group members to have more than permission to invite their friends…let them know you WANT them to invite their friends. This attitude is one of the greatest contributing factors to a group making an evangelistic impact. If your group is in a season or study that is less conducive to having newwelcoming4comers join in, just ask your small group ministry contact person to remove your group listing from your church’s communications for a time. However, it is always good for group members to know they are commissioned and encouraged to invite their seeking friends. Groups can and should always serve to encourage personal outreach.

Small groups enable people to apply biblical learning to life and believers are empowered to engage in mission through them. They are a vital extension of a church’s community life to the life of its surrounding community and present transformational opportunities for blending believers with those who have yet to believe.

Just know a group that has an open home, open hearts, and open hands is a group that is replete with life-giving possibilities. By following the recommendations above, you will create an environment where the hospitality of biblical community will receive and reach many truth-searchers for Christ!

Welcoming Spiritual Seekers (Part 1 of 2)

The best groups are high in health and impact for God’s Kingdom. For both to be true, a leader must be prepared to welcome people into their group’s life together regardless of where they are at in their commitment to Christ and His Church. We reflect the beauty and greatness of our God when we accept one another just as Christ accepted us (Romans 15:7).

welcoming2
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” – Romans 15:7

The more group leaders know how to welcome and encourage truth-searching guests, the more effective they will be with engaging them with the Good News in transformational ways. To this end, I’ve compiled twenty-one recommendations for how you can welcome spiritual seekers, build relationships with them, and inspire everyone to grow in their relationship with Jesus.

 

  1. Warmly introduce seekers into your group. Learn a little about them before they show up to their first meeting because this will help you to introduce them to others in a more personal way. Do your best to remember facts they share about who they are, their family and friends, and how they found your group. One of the simplest ways of helping a newcomer feel ‘at home’ in your group is to repeatedly call them by their first name.
  2. Connect them with a few people as they come in and help to strike up conversations before your study begins. Use what you know about them to ignite conversations with other group members.
  3. Briefly introduce seekers to your group at the outset of your gathering using what you learned about them. Unless your guests initiate sharing more about themselves, do not put them in the position where they have to talk in front of the whole group. Just do what you naturally do for each group meeting.
  4. Consider newcomers as seekers until you learn otherwise. Believers who are new to a Christian gathering tend to convey something about their faith / church commitment up front. If they do not, chances are they either do not have a relationship with God or may not have a strong one. On this point, it is vitally important to avoid making assumptions about what your guests believe. Rather, look for ways to affirm the truth God has apparently given to them as Paul did in Athens (Acts 17:22-23, 28-29).
  5. Use relational terms to explain theological concepts in your Bible study. For example, salvation is having a relationship with Christ or being friends with God now and forever. Redemption is Jesus helping us to connect with God and know Him. Do your best to stay away from Christian jargon.
  6. Express appreciation for their input. When newcomers say something that does not harmonize with Scripture, don’t correct them. Be positive and say something like, “Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!” Discipleship happens through relationships that develop over time.
  7. Prioritize seekers in your group time by making it a goal to help them feel safe and a valued part of the gathering. Look for ways to include them socially and affirm any contribution they try to make to the conversation.
  8. Take a minute on the front end to say what your group is about and invite input from others so guests can get exposure to some of the other personalities present. In a group situation, most people prefer to get a good feel of the dynamic before jumping into the discussion. The more free people feel to participate, the more likely it is they will return.
  9. When you have guests, leave plenty of time for people to socialize at the tail-end of your group. Everybody is different, but newcomers tend to be more interested in being more personal toward the end of a group than the beginning. This will give time to introduce your group members to guests and have fun and relaxed conversations.
  10. End your group time on a high note so guests will be encouraged to return. Studies show that when something ends positively the entire experience becomes a good memory for people, which they are more apt to repeat.

In my next post, I’ll share eleven more thoughts to help group leaders create a welcoming environment for newcomers and inspire everyone to take their next steps in their relationship with Christ.

What’s Your Top 10?

Recently, I got to speak at the Leadership Summit for Woodside Bible Church. During my time with them, I was interviewed about the ten questions below. I’d be happy to share the video of my Q&A with you if you let me know via the “CONTACT ME” page of my website.

  1. What’s a good meeting format (or template) for a group to follow? What do you do when your group meetings frequently run over?
  2. How does a group leader stay healthy and effective for the long-haul?
  3. How do you measure spiritual growth and progress from one season to the next in your group’s life together?
  4. What are some common threats to healthy group life and how do you avoid them?
  5. How can you get your group to serve together – to be ‘on mission’ together?
  6. What should you do if your group is feeling stagnant or tends to major on the minors in its Bible study?
  7. What’s a good size for a group? What do you do when it gets too large?
  8. What should you do if you’re feeling tired, discouraged or overwhelmed in your group leadership?
  9. Trouble-shooting common challenges in group life. What do you do with somebody who consistently talks a lot and dominates the group’s conversations? What about a person who is highly-opinionated and off-base biblically?
  10. There’s so much group curriculum out there – how do you know what to choose? What do you look for when you’re choosing great group studies?

 

Simple Small Group Study

  1. Less is More – Prepare…but not too much. Pull together only HALF as much as you think you’ll have time to go through in a single gathering. Generally, facilitators with LESS material on hand to go through find themselves more open to the conversation going new and different directions. Conversely, facilitators with MORE material prepared to cover experience more pressure to progress through it. You want to be time-conscious, but not too ambitious about what can be achieved during a highly-relational 60-90 minute meeting.
  2. Point to the destination…but don’t give too much direction on how to get there. Think of ONE thing you’d like for your group participants to walk away with. What do you hope they’ll learn or feel as a result of your study and discussion? For example, “I hope each person will learn in a deeper way that Jesus is with him or her every moment of every day and therefore will experience more of His peace in their daily life.” What matters in the study time is not how much ground you cover as it is how much transformation happens within members’ hearts. This can happen through study content, but more often, it occurs through Spirit-led person-to-person interaction.
  3. Guide, don’t direct – Be flexible with the “agenda” and avoid over-facilitation. Trust the Lord with how the study and conversation flows. The tendency is the more a facilitator speaks, the less responsive people get. The resimplesg2sponse ratios to the right measure how the number of people in a group affects individual participation. It’s good to be aware of these ‘interpersonal laws’ because they can prompt you to know how to encourage greater interactivity, which results in more energetic and fruitful conversation. Besides, following the other ‘simple rules’ shared in this section compresses these response ratio results.
  4. Recap and Refocus – Share what the group accomplished together and a basic plan for your next gathering. This instills a since of accomplishment and purpose for group members. It shows them that you have a plan and you’re all going somewhere together. This simple practice boosts participants’ commitment and brings more focus to the course of your study overall.
  5. Don’t meet up to the last minute – Give people time to unwind and socialize toward the end of each gathering; it’s a simple way to foster unity and inclusion in the group. This is more likely to create a positive conclusion for everyone, which will leave them with an increased desire to come back for more. In other words, end on a high note! This also ensures all participants, particularly those who have to get home for the sake of their kids or the next-day’s schedule, can do so without stress and enjoy the company of the whole group.