Recruiting new small group leaders is no small task. Lots of prayer and conversations go into the process, and once they say Yes, we are responsible for not only providing support and encouragement but also adequate training. Think back on a time when you were asked to do something but were not given enough details, support, or resources. How did you feel? Overwhelmed? Frustrated? Anxious?
Any time leaders train new leaders, we must put ourselves in their shoes, remembering what it is like to be given a new responsibility. What are some things that are helpful to remember? To keep it simple, let’s consider five “Cs” for training new small group leaders: character, communication, coaching, clear expectations, and care.
Sometimes we think that small group leaders need to be experts on the Bible. While this is helpful, a lot of Bible knowledge should not be what drives us when finding new leaders or training them. A new small group leader that is expected to lead with character and humility will set the tone for a group. We know that discipleship happens in relationships, so a leader must be a person of character who can lead a group of believers to love one another. When it comes to equipping, be creative and intentional on character development.
Communication is vital when training new leaders. Remember the situation we mentioned earlier when you were asked to do something for which you were not equipped? Did you feel alone? Communication fixes this issue.
Training should include our communication with the leader as well as our helping the leader know how to communicate with group members. For example, the small group pastor or ministry leader may send out an email to all leaders once a week to share which Scripture passage will be discussed that week in the group with discussion questions and/or ideas on how to move to application. Let the small group leader feel equipped and known.
A second element of communication is the new small group leader communicating to their group regularly. Some may do this through a weekly email as well but it may also include setting up a group text message or using a program like WhatsApp. We want to provide space and encouragement for members to communicate and share prayer requests and needs. As we communicate with our leaders, we model the type of communication they can have with group members.
I have found that one of the most effective ways to train new small group leaders is to utilize seasoned small group leaders as coaches. During new leaders’ training, pair seasoned leaders with new leaders in a Q&A, and then have the mature leader continue to coach a new leader throughout the year. The coach will provide support, encouragement, and a listening ear, and he/she will also help find resources and answer any questions that may arise. One of the most important things a coach can do for a new leader is praying for him/her.
4. Clear Expectations
A final element of training new small group leaders involves setting clear expectations. The new leader needs to know exactly what they have committed to when agreeing to lead. It is not fair to surprise them with unspoken expectations. This training can include the length of their commitment, frequency and attendance requirement for other training throughout the year, and even how often they are expected to meet with their group throughout a given year.
It is also important to let the leader know what level of care you are asking her to give to each individual in their group. There is a big difference between a leader who is expected to shepherd the members of their group and a leader who is simply a Bible study facilitator. Unmet expectations will cause frustration and hurt feelings. We can help train our leaders by being clear about what we expect.
In our church, we say, “discipleship happens in community.” The small group ministries in our churches are some of the key discipleship communities. If we want to develop quality disciples, then we need to build quality small groups. This begins with our leaders. Time spent equipping small group leaders is our investment into the discipleship of countless small group members.
For our church, the large majority of general care that happens is at the small group level. Many times emotional, spiritual, and physical needs are met by small group leaders and their groups. If this is the case for your church, make sure new small group leaders understand the level of care they are personally responsible for. Provide leaders with an understanding of the different levels of care. Some examples of this may be professional care, pastoral care, and general care. Care for your leaders by providing them with resources and people and/or staff to contact when needed.
Lesley Hildreth is the Women’s Discipleship Director for the Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina. She is responsible for the discipleship of over 6,000 women spread over ten campuses and spends the majority of her time developing and equipping leaders who share the task of making disciples. Before this role, Lesley was the Assistant Director of Women’s Life at Southeastern Seminary where she received her MA in Christian Studies. She also served eight years with her family with the International Mission Board in Western Europe and Central Asia. She has a passion to see all women participating in God’s mission, using their gifts to serve the church, further his kingdom, and bring God glory. She is married and has two adult children, two grandsons.