I believe most small group leaders spend too much of their prep time on the study. I don’t say this because I don’t believe group studies have value, but because they don’t hold more value than other parts of a group meeting. Jim Egli and Dwight Marable’s research findings show that time spent preparing lessons has absolutely no correlation to any group growth outcomes. If you want to lead a group that is healthy and growing, you need to prepare for your entire meeting and not just your study. Here are five ways to allocate your time to make a lasting difference:
The biggest different between groups that grow and groups that don’t is a leader who prays. Egli and Marable conclude that it’s much more important to prepare your heart than it is to prepare your notes.
Before you start praying for your group members, you might find it helpful to pray for the various things that are on your mind first. This will help you settle your thoughts so you can then focus on the people in your group.
Once you’ve done this, pray for the people in your group and the various things they’re facing. You’ll be surprised by the amount of things God will prompt you to pray about.
- Pray for the people that your group members share their lives with (family, co-workers, neighbours, teachers, etc.).
- Pray that God will bring new people to your group.
- Pray that your meeting times will be impactful and inspirational.
- Pray for the health and unity of your church.
Make a point of telling your group that you regularly pray for them and then ask them what they would like you to pray about. They’ll feel encouraged, you’ll learn more about them, and your relationship will grow.
Connect with group members
Experiencing community is an expectation that many people have of their small group. For all the good that can happen in group meetings, it can be challenging to schedule “community building time” into your agenda. You can certainly choose activities that will encourage a sense of community, but this can’t be forced.
One of the best ways to foster this experience is by connecting with group members outside your meeting times. This shows others that you care about them beyond the 90 minutes you share with them each week.
Use some of your prep time to email, call, or text a member to see how they’re doing. You can follow up on a prayer request that they shared recently or simply tell them that you appreciate them. You’ll be amazed by the difference these small gestures will make.
Strategic planning is sometimes relegated to specific people at higher levels of leadership. But thinking strategically is critical to many facets of life and this exercise can make a world of difference in the direction of your group.
Remember, as the designated leader of your small group, your role is to guide your group to their preferred destination. Where you do sense God wants this group to be six months from now? How can you prepare people to get there?
Meetings can become stagnant when creativity is missing. What can be done differently at your next meeting that will make it memorable? Are you the best person to implement a new idea or would it be better to have someone else try something new?
New ideas can be fun and exciting, but it can also be effective to simply add a new person to what’s already happening. What if you had someone else lead the discussion time? How would your prayer time be different if you tried something that had never been done before?
If you don’t ask people for feedback, you’re placing your group’s evaluation solely on your own opinions. How can you catch a glimpse of people’s experiences? Your goal is not to cater to everyone’s wants, but to gain a feel for what’s helping your group reach their priorities.
You might find it helpful to develop a short survey or to find a time when you can privately ask each person for their feedback. This is yet another way you can strengthen the ethos of your group and demonstrate that you care for everyone’s well-being.
[Keith Reed is the Director of MinistryLift for MB Seminary.
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