For the past few years, we have led Multiply Groups, a campus ministry in Birmingham, Alabama. We have trained dozens of college students on how to lead small groups with their peers. Whether you’re in the heart of the American South or you’re working with unreached people, believers need community with one another. Small groups are intentional, consistent meetings where a group of a few friends meets to study God’s Word and pray for one another.
The reality is that the length, location, and structure of your group will vary depending on where you are and who is in your group. No matter where you may be, gathering with other Christians in a small group is an opportunity to create space for discipleship, friendship, and accountability.
Small Groups Cultivate Deep Community
South African pastor Priviledge Tafirei wrote, “Friendship has become something of a convenience, rather than an essential component.” We’re afraid that Tafirei is spot on. Around the world, Christians often try to live their lives in isolation. We’re in need of deep community that transcends shallow friendships. We’re in need of healthy small groups centered around the gospel.
How to Lead a Small Group
If you have the opportunity to lead a small group, we encourage you to take seriously the opportunity to steward the responsibility God has given you.
Leading a small group starts with preparing beforehand. We’ve been a part of small groups where the leaders are frazzled and unorganized. This can become a barrier to the other members and hinder opportunities for deep conversations. There are three practical ways to prepare for your small group.
Pray for Your Group
First, pray for the members of your group. Pray that God would use this time to show them the love of Christ. Pray that they would experience the blessing of fellowship with other believers.
Talk to Your Group Throughout the Week
Second, communicate with your group throughout the week. Consider texting or calling them throughout the week to encourage, check on, and remind them when you are meeting.
Write Questions Beforehand
Third, if you’re leading your group through a passage of Scripture, consider writing a few questions beforehand. By reading the passage, taking notes, and having questions ready ahead of time, you can guide your group through God’s Word in a helpful way.
Lead with Christ-like Character
As a leader, there must be visible fruit of leadership qualities and characteristics that allow you to lead in maturity. While there are many qualities that could be mentioned, we believe that great leaders demonstrate humility, vulnerability, and authority.
Lead with Humility
Leading with humility means you are humble and place your own needs lower than others. The need for humility in leadership is clear because if it is not present pride will almost assuredly rear its ugly head. When pride becomes present in leadership, it will destroy the unity of the group. Pride is a damaging and sinful posture of the heart that will seriously affect the group and must be avoided at all costs. Pride is driven by selfish desires that hurt the group’s ability to foster deep friendship.
Lead with Vulnerability
Leading with vulnerability means that you are in open and honest communication with the group members. Vulnerability is needed from the leader because you must set an example of honesty in the group. Without the vulnerability of the leader, the group members will not open up nor will they see the need for it. This means you are the first to confess and share, showing the group that you are as broken as them.
Lead with Authority
Leading with authority means that you have a level of responsibility for the group. Your authority means that you provide direction for the group, as the members look to you as their leader. This authority should be combined with humility and vulnerability to provide the most effective leadership.
Focus on Scripture
Leading a small group well means focusing on Scripture. God’s Word must be the foundation of the group, as this is where we encounter his Son. Knowing this, the group must be founded out of a heart to know God better and to apply his Word.
Scripture should influence every aspect of the group. From fellowship to confession, Scripture must support and saturate all that the group does.
Involve Members Actively
One of the best ways to lead your group is to actively involve the members. For example, when you confess sin, provide a model for them to be vulnerable. Encourage them and give them space to share their struggles with one another.
When you study Scripture as a group, ask questions and provide opportunities for them to process truth and speak when ready. Do not be afraid of silence or awkward pauses in the conversation, as they are not necessarily bad. Provide opportunities for them to ask questions, demonstrate curiosity, and engage in conversations about the text.
In the group that we lead, we actively look for ways for the group members to serve within our group. For example, we meet in a house near our college campus. Seth and David pick up freshmen before the meeting each week. After a time of confession, James reminds us of the gracious gift of the gospel. After this, Elijah closes our time by praying for each group member. When group members are actively involved in the routine of the group, they are more consistent and more likely to experience growth.
Remind Them of the Gospel Regularly
Perhaps, most importantly, remind them of the gospel regularly. Regardless of the structure of your small group, the gospel should be the focus of your meeting.
In the group that we lead, we encourage members of the group to practice explaining the gospel after we finish a time of confession. The gospel reorients us around the kindness of God’s grace. Romans 2:4 tells us that it is the kindness of God that leads men to repentance. Whether we’re celebrating victories or confessing shortcomings, the gospel grounds us in God’s grace.
Small Groups are for Friendship
Remember, small groups are meant to provide space for cultivating deep friendships. In our ministry, we prioritize vulnerability. We bring our sins and struggles to the table and pray for one another. We spend time studying the Bible and encouraging one another. And we practice sharing the gospel each week. Small groups provide us with friendships to live our Christian lives in community.