When I think about the experiences that have been most influential to my faith, 90% of them have come in the form of some kind of small group. Now that I am in a position where I lead several small groups, I have become particularly thankful for the people in my life who committed their time and energy to leading the groups I was a part of. It was no small feat – leading a small group can be daunting at times. Particularly if the members of your group are your peers – or worse, are older than you!
Even though it may be scary, leading a small group can be one of the best experiences you ever have. So to help you along the way, here are my top ten tips for leading small groups!
- Be Prepared.
- Ask Questions.
- Don’t Be Afraid of Silence.
- Be A Confident Facilitator, not a Cocky Preacher.
- Respect All Contributions.
- Be Firm, But Flexible.
- Lead By Example.
- Begin & End With Prayer.
- Ask for Help.
Life is busy. And we get crazy. But your preparation as a small group leader is critical. Read through your materials ahead of time. Underline important passages. Make notes. Be familiar with the material you want to work through. Just before the session, review your notes. Try not to keep your head stuck in your leader’s guide during your small group time. Use it as a guide, not a map!
Let’s face it – leading a small group can be scary. But God has promised to send us the Holy Spirit to be with us and guide us. You won’t be alone – God will be with you every step of the way! Spend time in prayer for your group, asking God for guidance and strength.
Sometimes it takes people a little while to formulate the words they want to say. Don’t be afraid to let people sit in silence. Count to 10, slowly. Look around the room at participants, make eye contact, smile. Silently invite them to share what’s on their mind.
Engage in conversation with the group. You are not there to give all the answers. You’re there to help your small group think through questions and wrestle with the text. Help them discover what they think rather than telling them what they should think!
A small group experience is more about the relationships and less about the right answers. If you see participants who look like they have something to contribute, don’t be afraid to call on them! Help other group members remember that all opinions and contributions are important. You may not always agree with what’s said, but respect the person who says it – and let them know it.
Sometimes groups can get out of hand. People get off topic. Occasionally you’ll have group members who, for whatever reason, don’t want to be there or contribute. Be firm with them, reminding them that you all agreed to be a part of this small group and that you want them to give 100% participation. When people start to talk about something completely off topic, gently steer them back to the question at hand. Respect your small group members’ time. You’ve agreed to come together to talk about a particular topic – respect that and stay on topic as much as possible.
It helps to remind everyone at the beginning that God is present with you during your time together. You may consider lighting a candle to remember Christ’s presence with you. It’s also nice to stop and sit in God’s presence, just for a moment. Use the time to really center your own thoughts as you begin the session. As you end your time together, invite members to pray for the things that are on their hearts. Just as you began remembering God’s presence among you, you want to leave your sacred time remembering that God goes with you.
None of us are experts in leading small groups. Talk to other small group leaders, particularly those with more experience than you. What’s worked for them? Watch them as they lead groups. Notice how they engage with group members and listen to responses. If you think you need an extra set of eyes and ears, consider asking someone in your group to co-lead with you. More than likely, there are other members of your group that would be willing to help you out. If you are swamped and can’t prepare for a gathering, ask someone else if they’d be willing to facilitate. Just make sure they have time to prepare!
Do you have any favorite tips for small group leaders?