Group Leaders Skills: 3 Steps to Being a Better Listener

If you’ve led a small group for more than a few weeks, or if you’ve participated in one, you understand that listening is a valuable tool. That makes sense because most small groups spend the majority of their meeting time talking about their lives, talking about the Scriptures, talking about important concepts, and so on. With all that talking, someone needs to be listening!

Headphones

Image courtesy of Thinkstock

But here’s the problem: most people aren’t good listeners. Not naturally, anyway. Most people are much better at expressing what they think than at genuinely listening to the thoughts of others. And for small-group leaders especially, this can become a major problem.

There is good news, however: listening is a skill that can be learned and improved upon. You can become a better listener if you are intentional about doing so.

With that in mind, here are three steps you can take to become a better listener.

1. Stay in the Present
One of the obstacles that prevents us from listening well is allowing our minds to drift outward toward the future—or even backward toward the past. This is especially true for group leaders during a group meeting.

How often have you found yourself thinking forward to points of the meeting still to come? How should I phrase the next question? When should I move to the next question? Should I try to get Steven to talk more? How much time should we set aside for prayer? What will traffic be like when we drive home?

In the same way, how often have you found yourself drawn back to the recent past during a group meeting? Why didn’t James and Kelly come? Was the cheese dip okay? What have the kids been up to for the past 30 minutes?

This constant mental pull away from the present is the biggest hindrance to genuine listening. In order to listen well, then, you must be intentional about remaining in the present. Always be conscious of the temptation to think forward and backward, and always resist that temptation to the best of your ability. Stay in the now.

2. Use Body Language
Most people associate listening with hearing the words people say—and that’s certainly part of it. But you know it’s possible for those words to go in one ear and then straight out the other. Hearing doesn’t mean comprehending or appreciating.

Your group members know this, as well. That’s why they will feel so much better about sharing and being vulnerable when your body language tells them you are giving them your fullest attention.

The first step in attentive body language is making eye contact. When a group member shares during a discussion, be sure to look at them—not at your Bible, or at your study guide. And especially not at your phone. Look the person in the eyes.

In addition to eye contact, your body posture is a physical representation of your attention. So, if you lean toward a person who is speaking, that person will feel your attention moving in their direction. If you slump backward or lean against the side of your chair, you are subtly communicating a lack of attention.

Finally, use your body language to encourage those who share in your group. Most group members feel a bit insecure when they offer opinions or demonstrate vulnerability in front of others. But an encouraging smile can go a long way toward easing their fear. You can also nod your head to show that you’ve heard them and you approve of what they are saying.

3. Use Reflective Listening
When someone takes the initiative to share in a group setting, they want to know if they’ve really been heard—if they’ve been understood. And reflective listening is a great way to communicate that you have indeed understood.

At the core, reflective listening involves reflecting, or re-phrasing, what’s been said. You are re-stating what you heard in order to show the speaker that you understand. Usually, you demonstrate reflective listening by starting with a phrase such as, “I’m hearing you say…” or, “Am I hearing you say…?”

For example, say a group members shares how she used to focus entirely on her behavior in connection with her relationship with God—doing good things and avoiding bad things. But now she’s discovering that God loves her even when she make mistakes. You could use reflective listening this way: “Am I hearing you say you’ve come to a new understanding about grace?” Doing so tells the speaker that you’ve heard her, and it offers a chance for her to clarify her thoughts if necessary.

Obviously, you don’t want to use reflective listening every time a group member speaks. That would clog up the whole discussion. Instead, use reflective listening when someone seems hesitant or conflicted about what they’re trying to say—and especially when someone shares something vulnerable. Those are the moments when it pays to tell people they have genuinely been heard.

Sam O’Neal is a Content Editor on the Adult Ministry Publishing team at LifeWay. He has a passion for seeing discipleship and full-bodied Christian education done right in the local church—especially in the context of small group communities. Sam is also the author of “The Field Guide for Small Group Leaders“. You can follow Sam on Twitter @SamTONeal.

Group Leader Skills: 3 Times a Leader Should Keep Quiet

Image courtesy of Thinkstock

Small group leaders often feel an obligation to TALK. Here are three times when allowing another voice to be heard is the best choice.

1. When a small group leader asks a question.
When leading a conversational Bible study, small group leaders have a tendency to ask a question then, if no one jumps in quickly, the small group leader fills the awkward silence. Don’t. Ask the question and wait. Sooner or later someone will speak up. Not only that, they’ll voice a well thought out statement.

2. When someone else in the group has the knowledge to speak to the issue.
Oftentimes during a group meeting someone in the group unveils a life situation or a doctrinal question. The tendency of the small group leader is to speak to that situation or question. If the leader knows someone else in the group is capable of answering that question or has already been through that life situation, allow them to speak. You may have to call their name and get them to jump in. If necessary, do that. This will grow the person who speaks to the situation or question as well as helping other group members realize that wisdom from all for all is what you’re after.

3. When the Bible has the answer to the question.
The goal of a Christian community is to hear from God. Most often, He speaks to us through His Word. When a question comes up allow the Bible to speak. That is, turn to a passage of Scripture and tell the person or person asking the question what God tells us in Scripture. God’s response is always the right response, whereas our opinion may miss the mark.

Rick Howerton is the discipleship and small group specialist at LifeWay. He is founding pastor of The Bridge Church in Spring Hill, Tenn., and author ofCountdown: Launching and Leading Transformational GroupDestination Community: Small Group Ministry Manual and A Different Kind of Tribe: Embracing the New Small Group Dynamic. You can follow Rick on Twitter @rickhowerton.

 

Group Leader Skills: Develop a Leader In Your Small Group

Leader

Developing A Leader Isn’t An Option

Moses, one of God’s champion leaders, prioritized the development of leaders. That priority was significant for the young nation of Israel, as Moses died just before leading them into the promised land. Moses’ investment into developing Joshua as a leader was a key component of Israel’s success.

Like Moses, Small Group leaders cannot lead their groups forever; Careers cause leaders to relocate. Illnesses and injuries regularly limit leaders’ participation. Children’s sports often cause cancellations. Life happens! Often, the consequence of these interruptions is the hindering of the group’s spiritual growth. Small Group leaders can avoid these consequences by following Moses’ example and developing new leaders.

Developing a Leader Is Not Difficult

There are three phases I use to develop a leader: Identifying, Partnering, and Releasing.

1.  Identifying a potential leader is as simple as looking for three characteristics of an individual in your group: likeability, listenability, and consistency.

Likeablity

Would I want to hang out with that person outside of group time? Do other people, on their own initiative, seek out a certain individual? If so, that individual has the likeability factor.

Listenability

Do you and other people in the group listen when this person speaks?  Does this person listen to others when they speak? If so, he or she has the listenability factor.

Consistency

Does this person regularly attend group? Is this individual steadily growing in Christ-like character? Does he or she easily maintain good relationships? If so, they have the consistency factor.

If a person has all three of these characteristics, invite him or her to partner with you in leading the group right away!

2.  Partnering is sharing group leadership with another person. My favorite time to initiate partnering is when I am planning to be out of town. A few weeks before I am going to be away, I privately ask the qualified person to lead the group in my absence. After the individual agrees, I spend a short time sharing the nuts and bolts of leading the group and ask him or her to lead a part of the group the two weeks before I am away. We spend a few minutes after those group times debriefing the experience. Then that person is ready to lead in my absence. If the person I have chosen does a fine job leading, I know I have identified a good leader. I now have a partner with whom to share leadership on a regular basis.

3.  Releasing a new leader is easy once you have established that leader as a partner. Since this person has the likeability factor, he or she probably has several solid friendships in the group. Those friends can easily become the nucleus of a new group. In another private conversation with that leader, I encourage them to start a new group with his or her closest friends. I promise this new leader that I will encourage and support him or her as they lead that new Small Group.

Once the individual has agreed to lead a new group, we share this great news with the entire group and celebrate the group’s life together. Finally, the ones remaining in the group bless the others as they leave to make room for others in a group.

Developing a Leader is Rewarding!

I love being a dad. My three children make me proud! I understand that being a grandparent will be even better. I have a sense of how rewarding grand-parenting will be because I am a spiritual grandparent. Many of the leaders I have helped develop have already developed other leaders. Watching my spiritual children have spiritual children of their own is an extremely rewarding experience. Many of these leaders have become my closest friends.

Develop A Leader In Your Small Group!

Moses’ legacy lived beyond his lifetime because he prioritized developing Joshua as a leader, as his partner, and as his successor. Somehow, Joshua failed to continue the legacy and the nation of Israel suffered for generations. If we as Small Group leaders follow Moses’ pattern of developing leaders we will extend our legacy and we will be a part of the ever-growing movement of Jesus’ kingdom on earth. If we neglect this practice, the movement ends with us. Start identifying, partnering with, and releasing the leaders in your group today!

Brian Phipps serves as Next Steps pastor at Westside Family Church in Lenexa, KS. Brian is experienced as a church planter, Senior Pastor, and discipleship and small groups Pastor. He received his BA in religion from the University of South Carolina, and a Masters of Divinity and M.A. in Counseling from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. Follow Brian on Twitter @BrianPhipps_.

The 14 Most Popular Posts for 2014

TopPosts

It can be difficult to read every article or catch an important topic you might have missed, so here’s a quick review of our most popular posts of 2014 to help you in your leadership role.

This interview offered great insight into Transformational Groups, a resource taken from the largest survey of pastors and laypersons ever done on the condition of groups in the church.

Eddie Mosley, Executive Pastor of Group Life at LifePoint Church in Smyrna, TN, discusses the signs of when it’s time to grow your group and provides 3 simple steps you can use to accomplish growth.

Sam O’Neal shares that everyone talking for an equal amount of time in a small group setting is a myth. It’s not realistic for every person to share the same—and doing so isn’t helpful for building community or deepening relationships within a group.

We’ve had several discussions on the importance of icebreakers in small groups to facilitate getting to know each other, people hearing their voices, breaking up the normal routine, and just having fun. This post focuses on active icebreaker games.

The Bible is clear from the beginning that God intends for His people to experience life abundantly. So why are things such a mess—even for Christians? We talked with Matt Chandler, lead pastor of teaching at The Village Church, about his new resource, Recovering Redemption.

Rick Howerton discusses how the amount of and the substance of conversation that takes place during the small group meeting is directly related to the amount of and the substance of conversation that takes place between meetings.

Thanking volunteers is one of the most important roles we have as leaders of small groups ministries. Laura Chapman, Connections Minister at Rolling Hills Community Church, shares her 3 C’s of how to show your leaders that you appreciate them.

Use this assessment to evaluate the progress of your small group. The goal of this evaluation isn’t to punish or reward yourself, but to gain some valuable information about the recent strengths and weaknesses of your group.

Group size is important, not only for management of relationships, but also for shepherding individuals on their spiritual journey. Eddie Mosley shares three signs that determine when it’s time to multiply your group and provides creative ideas on how to start new groups.

Great questions generate discussion and conversation that lead to the kind of community that best facilitates transformation. Brian Daniel, a Team Leader on the Adult Ministry Publishing team at LifeWay, shares a few things about asking great questions.

Whether you are beginning a women’s Bible study for the very first time or continuing to grow small groups in your women’s ministry, here’s 10 helpful tips from LifeWay Women’s Ministry specialist, Chris Adams, to help you lead your group well.

You know what you should say. You know what you need to talk about, but you’re not so clear on what you shouldn’t say. Ben Reed, Small Groups Pastor at Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, CA, discusses some of the statements that wreck the community we’re all striving for in our small groups.

There are many reasons having snacks at group meetings are a good idea. Munching on food provides a great catalyst for conversations to take place. Food can be one of the best forms of icebreakers and allows the opportunity for discussions before the group meeting ever begins. Here’s 3 recipes perfect for cold weather gatherings.

With gender-based groups being one of the fasting growing trends in small group ministry and the continued growth of  ministry to men, it’s no wonder that the #1 post of 2014 was about the five most popular bible studies for men.

Group Leader Skills: End of the Year Assessment

Assessment

While January is often a hectic season for small-group ministries, December is typically more relaxed. Groups are winding down from their fall studies. Many take a break from gathering together over the holiday season.

For those reasons, December is a great time for group leaders to take a step back and assess the overall health of their groups.

What’s going well in our group? What struggles are we facing? What steps should we take to grow spiritually and numerically in the coming year? The following evaluations will help you gain some traction in answering these questions.

[Note: To gain a more thorough evaluation of your group’s experience, consider asking group members to complete this assessment the next time you’re together. For the best results, encourage them to turn in the assessment anonymously.]

Study Material

How many positive comments have you received regarding your recent Bible studies or curriculum material?

0                1                2                3                4                5 or more

How many negative comments have you received regarding your recent Bible studies or curriculum material?

0                1                2                3                4                5 or more

What percentage of your group members have participated during most group discussions?

1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10
(50 percent)                                                                                        (100 percent)

How would you rate the overall excitement level during group meetings?

1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10
(Low)                                                                                                   (High)

Spiritual Growth

How many group members have professed to growing spiritually in the past six months?

0                1                2                3                4                5 or more

To what degree have you grown spiritually in the past six months?

1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10
(No growth)                                                                                         (Significant growth)

How often do group members confess sin within the group?

1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10
(Rarely)                                                                                               (Often)

In the past three months, how many times has your group worked together to serve those in need—either internationally or in your local community?

1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10
(Never)                                                                                                (Four or more)

Relational Growth

How many visitors have attended a group meeting in the past three months?

0                1                2                3                4                5 or more

How often do group members spend time with one another outside of scheduled group meetings?

1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10
(Rarely)                                                                                               (Regularly)

How often do group members share personal and/or vulnerable information about their lives during group meetings?

1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10
(Rarely)                                                                                               (Regularly)

How would you describe the strength of the relationships within your group now compared to the strength of those relationships six months ago?

1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10
(Same strength)                                                                                  (Much stronger)

Moving Forward
Based on your answers above, conclude this assessment by engaging the three questions mentioned earlier:

  1. What’s going well in our group?
  2. What struggles are we facing?
  3. What steps should we take to grow spiritually and numerically in the coming year?

Sam O’Neal is a Content Editor on the Adult Ministry Publishing team at LifeWay. He has a passion for seeing discipleship and full-bodied Christian education done right in the local church—especially in the context of small group communities. Sam is also the author of “The Field Guide for Small Group Leaders“. You can follow Sam on Twitter @SamTONeal.

Icebreakers for Christmas

Christmas is almost here, and I hope you’ve made plans to celebrate the season with your group. This is a great time to have some fun, so use these icebreakers to help spark the conversations at your Christmas small group gathering.

ChristmasIcebreakers

Image courtesy of Thinkstock

1. If you and your family could spend Christmas day anywhere in the world, at no cost to you, where would you most like for that location to be and why would you choose that location?

2. If you were filthy rich, what present would you most like to give the poorest person in your community?

3. What Christmas present that you received when you were a child was most memorable to you? Why did that present mean so much to you?

Rick Howerton has authored many small group studies, is a highly sought after trainer and speaker, and is the author of Destination Community: Small Group Ministry Manual and A Different Kind of Tribe: Embracing the New Small Group Dynamic. You can follow Rick on Twitter @rickhowerton.

FREE Christmas Bible Study

Christmas has come early for group leaders this year thanks to a FREE Christmas bible study, courtesy of Bible Studies for Life. Be sure to download this study to use with your group and celebrate Christmas together.

Gift

Image courtesy of Thinkstock

So with Christmas just a few weeks away, it’s time to make holiday plans for your group if you haven’t already. Whether you are wrapping up your current study, having a Christmas party, or volunteering for a service project together, this Christmas bible study is the perfect opportunity to focus the attention of your group on exploring the rich depth of our Savior’s birth. This free study is our Christmas gift to you. May it point you and your group to a deeper and more meaningful Christmas experience this year.

Download your FREE Christmas Bible Study HERE.

 

Icebreakers for Winter

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Today is the first day of winter, according to the meteorological calendar. As the cold and snowy weather begin to settle in, here’s some icebreakers to use with your group that will help you learn more about each person. Try one or more of these the next time you gather.

1.  What winter sport have you always wanted to do but have never had the opportunity to try? Why do you think that one excites you?

2.  If you could sit around a warm fire and discuss life with anyone past or present, who would you like to speak with and what one subject would you most like to discuss? No Bible characters please.

3.  If your workplace shut down due to snow on the roads and there was no one at home with you, how would you spend your day?

Rick Howerton has authored many small group studies, is a highly sought after trainer and speaker, and is the author of Destination Community: Small Group Ministry Manual and A Different Kind of Tribe: Embracing the New Small Group Dynamic. You can follow Rick on Twitter @rickhowerton.

Do You Have the Bible Study Insider App?

With so many new groups getting started at the beginning of the year, make sure your group leaders are equipped with one of the best tools to help them effectively lead their groups. The Bible Study Insider provides a FREE app for group leaders that will not only help them during group meetings but also with planning for what’s next in their group.

With the Bible Study Insider app, you’ll get:

  1. A series of icebreakers to help connect your group members with each other and get the conversation started.
  2. Small Group FAQ’s to provide answers to some of the most common questions group leaders ask.
  3. Free previews of LifeWay’s newest bible studies to help you easily plan in advance for your group’s next study.

app-products3

Make sure all your group leaders (and potential group leaders) know about this helpful app and take away some of the stress and worry they experience.

Click HERE for more information or to download the app for Apple devices.

Click HERE for more information or to download the app for Android devices.

Thank You and How Can We Help

Image courtesy of Thinkstock

Image courtesy of Thinkstock

As we begin the week of Thanksgiving, we’d like to thank you, our awesome followers and bible study leaders, for your dedication to study the scriptures in the context of small groups and community. You are some of the most loving people in the world and give sacrificially of your time and energy to help your groups become more like Jesus. Thank you! We’d also like to get your feedback on what topics, subjects, or areas of interest are most important to you. Our most popular features have been icebreakers, recipes, and other practical skills to make leading a group easier and more beneficial to the group. But what is it that you could really use answers for or what is causing your group to be less than you hope for? What would you like help with?

Post your questions or article suggestions in the Comment Field of this post, and we’ll use these to develop future articles and blog posts. Our goal is to help leaders bring about an environment in group life that leads to heart transformation in people. How can we help?