Being intentional just means making sure the group is more than a series of random interactions between its members. No one is happy in a random group because no one grows or feels challenged.
For most groups, it's not too early to begin sharing responsibilities during the four-week starter period. Doing so is a great way to give your group members a sense of ownership of the group.
Every leader should be humble, teachable, curious, and intentional because if you lead from that posture, it creates an environment that encourages transformation in the lives of those you lead.
How do you lead from a position of influence instead of authority? That's what this video is all about.
The New Testament records 183 questions that people asked Jesus. He gave a direct answer to three of those questions, but he asked 307 clarifying or redirecting questions in response. Our takeaway: One well-placed question is better than ten good answers. Asking great questions is a skill every leader should work on developing over time.
Why ask questions? Great questions meet people where they are in their faith journeys. Instead of just providing people with easy (and too often trite) answers, great questions help them to own their faith. Questions encourage people to think for themselves. That self-directed shift in thinking has a higher probability of influencing future behavior. In other words, it has a higher probability of helping people grow.
What makes a great question? Curiosity is the secret ingredient of great question-asking. A leader should be genuinely curious about what’s going on in the lives of his or her group members and what those group members have to say.
Great questions aren't judging. They don’t presume an answer. They’re asked in a spirit of learning. They build empathy.
What makes a great question asker? The most effective leaders are full of conversations, not answers. They're humble, satisfied with delayed credit (or no credit at all), generous, concerned with others, curious, and empathetic. Great leaders ask great questions and continually strive to be better at asking great questions.
I don't know about you, but I'm better at asking questions than I used to be but not as good as I want to be. Improving is hard work, but it's worth the effort.
When something is wrong, is your first instinct to say, "Well, at least . . ."? Check out this short video featuring author and research professor Brené Brown.
Leading a group of 10 to 12 individuals can be tough because each person has different needs. Although everyone in the group shares the same goal—to grow in their relationship with Jesus—each person's best next step in pursuing that goal is often different. So, how do you lead individuals while also making sure the whole group is headed in the right direction? Here are three things to keep an eye on:
1. Lead toward the big goal. Take comfort in the fact that even though people have different wiring, personalities, experiences, talents, and temperaments, the purpose of the group of the group is the same for each of them: to create an environment where they can grow in their relationship with God. Within the context of that goal, the individuals in your group will be at different places in their journeys and will be ready to take different next steps. Your job is to keep an eye on the overarching goal while helping individuals take personal steps toward Jesus.
2. Determine where each person is. Each person in your group comes into group at a different place in their journey with God and with community. It's important to figure out where each person is so you can lead them effectively. Some group members may be exploring the idea of a relationship with God. Others may be beginning their relationship with him. Still others may be pursuing a deeper relationship with God through community. People in different places in their spiritual journeys face different challenges and struggles. Determining where your group members are spiritually will help you decide which topics to study as well as how to tee up helpful conversations.
3. Point to next steps. Once you know where everyone is starting, you can begin to see their best next steps. A next step might opening up more to the rest of the group, serving on Sundays in a ministry area, signing up for a mission trip, or just beginning to read the Bible and pray on a regular basis. You may be able to see what a person's best next step is better than he or she can. And the entire group can offer encouragement and accountability. Just remember: your job is to help your group members as they take a next step. They're responsible for actually taking the step. And God is responsible for growing them.
As you help each individual take steps toward Christ, you strengthen the group as a whole because each person learns and grows in doing his or her part in the body of Christ. As Paul says in Ephesians 4:16, “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
How do you, as the leader, think through or circle back to what happened or how things went during your group night? If we're the shepherds of our groups then we should be giving some thought to this each week.
The definition of debrief is to question someone about a completed mission or undertaking. So how do you do this as it relates to your group experience?
As a married group leader, I usually begin by making an observation or two to my husband as I'm loading the dishwasher and he's fluffing the pillows (he doesn’t care one bit about fluffed pillows, but knows it's my love language). He might ask a question like whether I noticed a particular person was quieter than normal.
Once we bring up the things we both noticed, we take it one step further and ask each other this question:
Is this something we should act on or gather more information about?
If you are a single group leader you might come up with a series of questions to ask yourself. These days you can even talk to yourself out loud without people thinking you're crazy; they’ll just think you’re on the phone. Your questions to yourself might be:
- How did everyone seem tonight?
- Did I sense a need to check in with anyone in particular?
- Is there a need that should be addressed by me or the group?
Others in your group may be having conversations about what happened at group, but it's up to you to take action.
Beginning your small group with the end in mind can streamline your impact and help you clarify your goals for the group as you lead.
Despite its benefits, social media can be addictive, and it can breed all kinds of negative emotions and behavior. I've seen too many people fall head first into a sea of insecurities due to the influence of social media. If this is you, it may be time to take a break.
Got ten minutes for some leadership tips? Check out this excellent podcast by Jeremy Beeler and Allison Holley, Groups Directors at Buckhead Church.
Jeremy and Allison recorded this segment for the Married Leaders podcast but their advice is so universal, I thought it would be great for leaders of any kinds of groups to hear. It's well worth 10 minutes of your time (that's a mere 1/144th of your day).
Married Leader Podcast—January, 2014
The key takeaway from the conversation is to ask yourself this question:
If we took away your role as a facilitator, what roles are you still playing in the lives of your group members?
I've written before about how your responsibilities as a leader are to think about the spiritual growth of every member of the group and make sure the group environment supports that growth. One of the best ways you can help yourself carry out those responsibilities is to perform regular group check-ups.
Every six months or so, take a timeout to assess how your group members are doing. Review the Group Agreement. Does the environment reflect what you all agreed to at the outset of the group? If not, you may need to bring group meetings into alignment with the agreement or adjust the agreement based on the rhythms you've established. Either way, it's a great opportunity to talk about what is and isn't working.
Is the group achieving its purpose? Are you making steady, incremental progress toward your goals of healthy relationships and spiritual growth? If so, take some time to recognize and celebrate that. If not, knowing you're off target is the only way you can get back on target.
Another great tool to use is the Group Member Assessment. Have your group members fill out this brief survey before you meet. It helps them to assess how they're growing in the Three Vital Relationships. Not only does the assessment help group members understand where they need to grow, it helps them understand how they've already grown. It's a great tool for mapping out the future, but also for celebrating the life change that has already occurred.
The assessment will give you a sense of how you can better lead your group members toward growth. Do you need to lean into a study about how to develop a deeper relationship with God? Do you need to focus on cultivating relationships within the group? Or maybe you need to cast some vision around serving others, and then get out into your community to do so on a regular basis.
The point is, you won't know exactly what your group needs if you're not intentional about finding out.
One more thing: Doing a group check-up may put you on the hot seat a little bit. It may reveal some areas where you can lead better. Don't take it personally. All leaders have opportunity for growth. The best leaders seek out those opportunities; they don't hide from them.
What have you done in the past to monitor the health of your groups?
In Wednesday's post, I wrote about why identifying an apprentice matters. But how do you know which of your group members might make a good apprentice? It's important to remember that you're not looking for someone who can lead a group tomorrow. You're looking for a teachable group member who has the potential to be a great group leader in the future. Here are four qualities that will help you identify that kind of person.
1. Character Character is what makes a leader worth following. The foundation of character is a growing relationship with Jesus. Can your potential apprentice point to a time when he or she established a relationship with Jesus? Has he or she been growing in a relationship with Jesus for over two years?
2. Competence Is your potential apprentice teachable? Is he or she able to learn the skills necessary to create a predictable environment where healthy relationships and spiritual growth can happen? Does he or she have the relational skills to lead a group at some point in the future? Have you seen your potential apprentice display leadership skills in your group, such as facilitating group discussions, planning socials, or providing care to other group members?
3. Culture Is your potential apprentice a member of the church or is he or she willing to pursue membership? Is he or she committed to the mission and strategy of the church?
4. Chemistry Chemistry matters. You'll eventually be sharing leadership responsibilities with your apprentice. Have you been able to connect relationally with your potential apprentice? Have you seen your potential apprentice connect with the other members of your group? Are you comfortable with your potential apprentice's ability to relate to others?
If you can answer "yes" to all of the those questions, you've probably found a strong candidate for apprenticeship. If you can't, you may want to consider other group members or discuss your concerns with your Groups Director.
Replace Yourself is one of our 8 Leader Essentials. But you may find yourself wondering, "Why am I supposed to identify and develop an apprentice? Why is it such a big deal?" Here are three reasons.
1. It's biblical. Throughout the Bible, leaders apprentice others so they can follow in the leaders' footsteps. Moses apprenticed Joshua. Elijah apprenticed Elisha. Paul apprenticed Timothy. One of the most cited verses on the subject of apprenticing is in Paul's second letter to Timothy:
"And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." (2 Timothy 2:2)
The clearest example of apprenticing is Jesus' interactions with the twelve disciples. If anyone could have done ministry all by himself, it was Jesus. But he didn't. His disciples were always with him—watching, learning, and listening. He involved them in almost everything he did. That's because he saw beyond his three years of public ministry. He knew success was handing off the ministry to those coming behind him. That's one measure of your success as a group leader too.
2. It's practical. Apprenticing doesn't just develop the apprentice. It also grows the leader who apprentices. Nothing makes you take stock of what you know like being asked to teach someone else. The process gives you incentive to organize your knowledge and put it down on paper. It helps you to solidify it in your mind. As you hand over responsibility to your apprentices, they bring their knowledge, talent, and experience to bear upon what you've shared with them. They find new and better ways to lead. This gives you the opportunity to learn from them. It expands your knowledge and skills.
3. It's strategic. Our mission is to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Our strategy to carry out that mission is to get people into groups because we believe that life change happens best in the context of small groups. So, creating space for more people to experience healthy relationships and spiritual growth is essential. We can only do that if we have qualified group leaders. Those who have been apprenticed make the best leaders because they've had first-hand experience of Community Group.
So, those are three reasons you should identify and develop an apprentice. On Friday, I'll give you four things to look for in order to identify an apprentice.
In the first post in this series, I wrote about how it's important to work with your group members to find the right frequency and direction for your summertime meetings. If you haven't read it, go check it out before reading this post.
Back? Okay. Summer is a busy time of year for most people. If you don't make accommodations, you and your group members may end up frustrated with the group's inability to maintain traction through the summer months. I mentioned in the previous post that most of the groups I lead meet only one or twice a month during summer. In some groups, we put aside doing studies and only meet socially. The challenge with that approach (even though it's dictated by the reality of everyone's schedules) is the risk that the group may begin to drift apart. So, what do you do?
This is where you can lean into one of the 8 Leader Essentials: Promote Participation. We've talked about promoting participation here and here, but it's also a great tool to use during those seasons (including summer) when your meeting schedule becomes irregular.
During those months when our groups drop back to just having social meetings once or twice per month, my wife and I ask group members to plan the socials and communicate those plans to everyone in the group. We give them guidance about what they need to do, and how and when they need to do it, but we let them run with it. We also try to identify group members who are willing to keep track of prayer requests and send them to everyone in the group by email.
Rotating some of these simple responsibilities keeps group members engaged and reminds them that they're co-owners of the group experience. It maintains momentum even when we aren't meeting on a weekly basis. And you know what? Most group members love doing these things. They're usually genuinely happy that we asked them to be involved.
What other strategies have you used to maintain momentum in the summertime?
This month we're exploring the challenges of leading groups during the summertime, when life is jam-packed with holidays, vacations, and children's activities.
During the first couple groups my wife and I led, summertime was a major source heartburn. When we sat down with our group members in May to look at our calendars and make plans, everyone was gung-ho to continue meeting and working through a study during the summer months. By the time June landed, their previous enthusiasm wasn't reflected in their attendance. It was common for only two or three couples to be available on any given group night.
To say that my wife and I were frustrated is an understatement. The fact that we'd bent our schedules to accommodate group meetings when no one else had stirred up a whole host of emotions—none of them all that positive. But the first thing we had to come to grips with is that the enthusiasm our group members had expressed back in May was genuine. They just weren't able to recognize at the time (and neither were we) how that enthusiasm translated into an unrealistic plan. It was up to us, as their leaders, to show them some grace and adjust our strategy in the future.
Little League games, birthday parties, and vacations take their toll on group members' availability during summer months. That's just the way it is. So, as my wife and I have become more seasoned leaders, we've made summertime scheduling a little less democratic. It's not that we don't give group members a voice. It's not that we don't appreciate their enthusiasm and their desire to remain connected to the group (in fact, we love to see those qualities in group members). It's that we've come to understand an important principle about leading other adults:
It's not our job to coax, cajole, or guilt people into showing up for group every week during the summer. It's our job to help our group members set reasonable expectations and agree to a schedule that doesn't leave them (or us) feeling frustrated or disheartened.
So, we have a frank conversation with our groups about the challenges of meeting during the summer. We lay everything out on the table. And we recommend a course of action based on our experience as leaders. In other words, we lead the group members in such a way that it helps them to come to an informed decision about how to handle summertime group meetings. It's not about guilt. It's definitely not about manipulation. It's about everyone taking an honest look at his or her summer calendar and then coming to an agreement about what will work best for the whole group.
What does that look like? Well, mileage varies. We've found that meeting more than twice a month just isn't realistic for the kinds of groups we lead (married couples with elementary and middle school aged children). In many of our groups, we've met only once a month. In those instances we didn't bother with a study because the less frequent contact with one another meant that we wanted to spend our meetings catching up, doing something fun, and finding out how we could pray for one another.
You may have a group that can meet more often and that has time to finish the reading and homework that a study demands. That's great. Plan accordingly. The important thing is that you establish an achievable goal for group meetings. If you set the bar too high, your group members will be frustrated . . . and so will you.
Come back on Wednesday for the second part of this post. In it, I'll talk about how you can leverage one of the 8 Leader Essentials to avoid summertime frustration.
In your past groups, how have you decided how often your group will meet during the summertime and what you'll do during your meetings?
As I mentioned in Monday's post, we're going to dedicate much of our blog space during the month of May to posts about leading your group during the summer months.
Summer is a tough time of year to maintain group cohesion and continue to grow relationships because everyone's schedules kind of explode. Vacations, holidays, sports seasons, and children with a lot more free time can make it hard for groups to continue to meet on a weekly basis. Many groups drop back to twice-a-month meetings. Some even meet only once each month for a little social interaction.
The important thing to know is that there isn't a one size fits all solution for navigating the summer months. Instead, you'll need to communicate with your group members and be intentional about formulating a plan that works for you. This month's posts won't necessarily offer easy answers, but we hope they help you to find an approach that works for your group.
To kick things off, I'd like to point you to Maintaining Momentum in the Summertime, a post from last year in which we gathered some recommendations from three Groups Directors. I've even posted one of those videos here. In it, Adam Johnson underscores the importance of setting clear expectations for your group members.
If you started a new group at January's GroupLink, the end of your eight-week starter period is fast approaching. In the final week of the study, you'll discuss, fill out, and sign the Group Agreement. The agreement isn't a binding contract. It's not a document you turn in to the church so we can file it away and refer to it later. It's just a way for you to make sure that everyone in your group understands what to expect and is on board.
You may think walking your group through the Group Agreement will be a little awkward. You may even consider skipping Session 8. Don't do it. The first two groups I led, we didn't use the agreement. If I could go back in time, I'd do things differently. Once I began using the agreement, the quality of my groups improved . . . big time. That's because this simple document, and the discussions that went along with it, aligned everyone's expectations. If there were people in the group who thought they were signing on for wall-to-wall Bible study, the agreement set them straight. If there were people in the group who expected lots of social interaction and just a tiny bit of Bible study and prayer, the agreement set them straight, too. The Group Agreement didn't guarantee that all of my groups were great (nothing can do that), but it ensured that my groups didn't derail because people were frustrated by unmet expectations.
We designed Community: Starting Well to get everyone in your group on the same page about what the group is and what it isn't. By now, you've shared stories, explored the building blocks of spiritual growth, and discussed what everyone in the group needs to know and do to create community. The Group Agreement is the last piece in the puzzle. It's designed to solidify in everyone's minds a lot of the things you've already talked about as a group.
Before you lead your group through Session 8, review the elements of the Group Agreement. Print a copy of the agreement for every person or couple in your group.
During the session, you'll watch a video in which John will walk you through two key elements of the agreement:
- Multiplication in the Values and Goals section
- The closed group information in item 5 of the Group Guidelines section
If there are other aspects of the Group Agreement you want to discuss with your group members, go for it. John just covers multiplication and closed groups because they're really important and they can cause confusion . . . especially for new leaders.
Congratulations on reaching the end of the eight-week starter period. I hope Starting Well has set you up for a great group experience over the next year or two.
Have you used the Group Agreement in past groups you've led? How did it work for you?