Take a moment to imagine the ideal—dare I say perfect—small group. What does it look like to you? What do you hear?
I see a cozy living room with comfortable seats for everyone. My ears hear friendly chatter, my nose smells fresh baking, and my mind is energized by engaging conversations.
Now think of this group’s leader. What sort of personality does she or he have? What would be the leader’s greatest strengths? What about their spiritual gifts?
The Leader of My Dreams
When I led the small group ministry at the church where I served as a pastor, I would sometimes think of the ideal personality for a small group leader. I wanted people who were spiritually mature and engaging conversationalists. My eyes kept searching for warm-hearted shepherds with magnetic personalities. I figured these gifts were perfect ingredients for the group recipe I was dreaming to mix, bake, and serve.
But these ingredients are hard to find! Is it really too much to ask for a small group leader to embody Deborah’s ambition, Solomon’s wisdom, and Martha’s hospitality?!
Probably. But I’ve since discovered that it doesn’t really matter. Because there’s no proof that these ingredients make a difference!
In a survey of more than 3,000 group leaders from over 200 churches, researchers Jim Egli and Dwight Marable discovered that the assumptions we make about small group leaders are unfounded. Consider the various ways that we categorize small group leaders.
A leader’s age, gender, marital status, education level, and socio-economic status don’t make a significant impact on the growth of their group. Since most of these categories are impossible for a person to control, every small group director can breathe a sigh of relief—your leadership pool is likely bigger than you think!
Does a group led by an extrovert have greater potential for growth than a group led by an introvert? Once again, the research from Egli and Marable says no. One leader can naturally exhibit openness and spontaneity while another can be aloof and somewhat unemotional. Consider the diversity of leadership personalities represented in the Bible: Deborah was tenacious, Gideon was timid, Job was resilient, Esther was brave, and Peter was stubborn.
I believe a leader’s personality will have an influence on their group’s culture, but it won’t have a bearing on their group growth.
Not surprisingly, the gifts of teaching, leadership, and evangelism are often regarded as preferable gifts for small group leaders. It would seem that these gifts would enable group members to more readily grow their faith and reach others. But leaders that lack these gifts are just as likely to have a growing group as those who have them.
Spiritual gifts are important, but they don’t make a significant difference in small group leadership.
These findings provide us with encouraging news. The things we cannot control do not make a difference on the groups we choose to lead. Age, personality, and spiritual gifts are neither assets nor liabilities when it comes to small group leadership.
The difference between successful group leaders and unsuccessful ones all relate to controllable behaviours. Egli and Marable’s research reveals that anyone can be a successful leader, so long as they depend on God and focus their efforts on the factors that truly make small groups grow.
[Keith Reed is the Director of MinistryLift for MB Seminary.
[The noted research from Jim Egli and Dwight Marable is from their book, Small Groups, Big Impact: Connecting People to God and One Another in Thriving Groups (ChurchSmart Resources, 2011).
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