The Group Leader's Role in Spiritual Growth

Most group leaders feel pressure to make sure group members experience dramatic progress on their spiritual journeys during the life of the group. They keep on the lookout for evidence of radical transformation. And when they don't see it, they feel like failures.

Have you ever experienced this? I know I have.

Here's the good news: if your group isn't living jaw-dropping stories of amazing life-change, that's okay. In fact, it's normal. Sure, we all have those keystone faith moments like crossing the line of faith or being baptized. But most of our growth happens in small, almost imperceptible increments.

So, don't get hung up on looking for big, dramatic leaps of growth. Instead, just keep doing the small acts of leadership that help people grow slowly over time.

These are the primary things you can do to help your group to grow:

1. Ask questions—One of the most important leadership tools at your disposal is curiosity. Your role as a leader isn't to teach a class. It's to help your group to grow. And asking genuine, discovery-based questions is one of the best ways you can do that. For one, it help you to better understand your group members' needs. But it also helps them to process what you're talking about and own their spiritual growth. People are more likely to apply what they're learning if they reflect deeply on that new information. Asking them questions encourages that kind of deep reflection. It leads them toward growth in a way that simply offering quick answers cannot.

These three questions are especially helpful:

How is God leading you?
How are you responding?
How can we help?

2. Encourage participation—Life change doesn't happen when people learn information. It happens when people apply what they're learning. The more an adult feels like he or she owns the learning process, the more likely he or she is to apply the lessons learned. That's why promoting participation is so important in groups. Sharing tasks like facilitating discussions, hosting meetings, preparing snacks, leading prayer times, planning socials, and guiding the curriculum choice helps group members feel greater ownership of the group. And group members who feel ownership are more likely to connect with one another relationally and participate more fully during discussion times.

3. Model transparency—For group members to fully participate in the life of the group, they have to be transparent about what's going on their lives. You can't make people open up. You can't force people to share. But if you're transparent about your own life, they'll be more likely to open up about theirs. Sharing what's going on with you creates a safe environment that encourages others to do the same.

Operating with these three essential responsibilities as your guides doesn't mean you shouldn't assess where your group members are on their spiritual journeys and define some "wins" that reflect where you'd like them to be. It just means that those wins should be short-term and incremental. But mapping out your plan for each group member over the entire life of the group is exceeding your mandate as a leader.