Why the Small Group Leader is the Most Important Person in the Group

I’ve written several posts on this site about small groups, including problems in small groups and ways to grow a small group. I’m convinced that THE most important person in a small group is the leader/teacher/facilitator, and here’s why: a strong leader can fix almost any problem the group faces (to be honest, I don’t know of any problem a leader can’t address, but I’m cautious about making unqualified statements).

Think about it:

  • If the problem is bad curriculum, a good leader can still take bad material, revise it as needed, and teach it well. The best leaders know they don’t teach curriculum anyway; they teach people.
  • If the meeting place is not inviting, a good leader can somehow make it inviting. He or she can make the group convening under a stairway in a crowded building feel blessed. I know – I’ve been in that group.
  • If someone talks too much, a good leader can regain control of the group. Strong leaders make sure no one dominates the discussion.
  • If the group doesn’t pray, the good leader does what almost sounds contradictory: he or she leads them to stop leading their lives in their own power, instead spending time on their face before God. 
  • If the group isn’t reaching new people, a good leader grieves, prays, and takes the lead in reaching out to unchurched people. The best leaders are evangelistic examples.
  • If the group is inwardly focused, a good leader will work continually to keep them focused on people who aren’t in the group. He or she turns the group’s eyes toward the unreached.
  • If the group doesn’t want to multiply, a good leader casts a vision of reproduction. Even if only a few buy into the vision, strong leaders plan to send out their best to start new groups.
  • If prayer times in the group are really gossip sessions, a good leader puts the brakes on such discussions. He or she reminds the group, “Were it not for the grace of God, we’d all be there . . . so we pray, not tell tales.” 
  • If the group seems to be dying, a good leader asks “why” – including asking, “Might I be the problem?” The best leaders are willing to serve elsewhere if necessary for the good of the group.
  • If the group never starts or ends on time, a good leader knows he or she is responsible for fixing that problem.
  • If the church has no new small group leaders, a good leader prioritizes raising up the next generation of leaders. The strongest leaders are constantly and willingly in the process of replacing themselves.
  • If other small group leaders in the church aren’t doing their job, a good leader nevertheless remembers that he or she will answer to God as one who teaches (James 3:1). Strong leaders set the example, not follow the crowd.

What’s my point? It’s really simple: small group leaders are so important that churches must prayerfully and wisely enlist the best ones – and deal with the bad ones. To leave in place a small group leader who is inwardly-focused, personal kingdom-oriented, intentionally or subtly divisive, and/or poorly gifted to teach the Word is almost unforgiveable.

3 Comments

  • David says:

    Thank you for this. I take away from the post that small groups can be divided into two subsets…inward focused small group (life group) and outward focused (bible study). Correct me if I’m offtrack please! Assuming that the members of the small group are clear on what the group is meant to do up front, what has been your experience in being a member of a small group where your gut is telling you something is wrong with the group’s path? Be it poor communication, a perceived lack of biblical leading, or failure to follow the purpose of the group all can be viewed as unmet needs, so how do you recommend bringing your concerns to the group leader in a graceful and loving way?

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    I do think churches out to have closed/life-on-life groups that are designed for more intimate discipleship + open/evangelistic groups designed for outreach. Problems occur when the group is designed for one purpose but actually exists for another. When that happens, I would again argue that the leader must have the right vision for the group.

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