I have heard hundreds of times over the years that the best way to learn something is by making a mistake. While I agree that making a mistake is a memorable way to learn something, many mistakes could be avoided and still produce great results. One realm where that is true is as the leader of a small group.
I was not the leader of either of the first two small groups in which I was involved. This allowed me to learn by observing before I took the reigns of the first group I led. In retrospect, I am confident that I avoided many potential mistakes because of the experienced leadership of my previous involvement. Still, I believe it would be helpful to review a list by Reid Smith written in an article entitled Seven Mistakes of New Small-Group Leaders. While Smith directs this article toward NEW small-group leaders, I believe that experienced leaders need these reminders as well.
In Part 1, I will share the first three of Reid’s list of seven “common pitfalls that new group leaders encounter” in all capitals followed by my commentary:
- NOT BEING YOURSELF. You have many natural gifts, passions, personality, and experiences to share. Be real. Be honest. Be yourself. It is much more work to attempt to be someone or something you are not naturally. And the group will know the difference no matter how hard you try! And group authenticity depends on your lead. No one is perfect, and the group does not expect you to be. In fact, they will be more relaxed and honest when you share a struggle or problem. In the words of Reid, “People want to go someplace where they are loved for who they are rather than who they feel they have to be.” Your openness can also lead to group openness with each other and even with God.
- CARRYING TOO MUCH. I know it seems easier to do things yourself–at least in the short run. But you must give away responsibility for the session and for group work outside of the meeting time. They will grow more and you will be freed to do other priorities. Reid listed three main ways a group leader can make this mistake that are good reminders: (1) not identifying a co-leader, (2) not asking participants to take ownership in different aspects of the small group’s life, and (3) not facilitating discussions. Share your work with your apprentice. Get attenders involved in the session and group work. Get them talking early and avoid dominating the discussion or letting anyone else do the same. Seek to lead each person to be fulfilled as they are fulfilling part of the work.
- FAILURE TO CULTIVATE AN OUTWARD-ORIENTATION TO GROUP THINKING. Help them to get beyond “what’s in it for me” thinking. Direct their attention AND efforts toward God and others during the session and in daily interactions. Jesus reminds us in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) that there is a connection between evangelism and discipleship (making disciples involves baptizing and teaching them to obey). The group will grow more as His disciples when they are also concerned about reaching and caring for others. Lead them to pray for others. Involve them in regular (at least quarterly) outreach or ministry projects for people not in the class. Point to the open chair and ask what FRANs (friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors) they need to invite to the group.
Let me close with this admonition from Smith:
Remember the basic principle: Your small group will be healthy when people feel loved. This isn’t all up to you as the leader, but you are a primary catalyst for it. And don’t forget about God. A small -group leader is the person who takes the lead in creating and maintaining an environment where biblical community can thrive, but it’s God who does the actual growing (1 Corinthians 3:6–7).
Is one of these pitfalls a greater tendency for you? Press the comments button below to share ideas of how you can overcome this mistake. In Part 2, we will examine the last four pitfalls related to curriculum, creativity, being inflexible, and group uniquenesses. As you lead your group, be yourself, avoid doing it all yourself, and help your group to think of others. Be revolutionary!