Group Leader Skills: 3 Traits of an Effective Small Group Leader

Image Courtesy of Thinkstock

I realize that I have most likely given a different list of this nature at some time. My problem… I continue to see and get to know effective small group leaders and the traits they exhibit need to be added to the list. So, here are three more traits of an effective small group leader.

1. Is not overly sensitive.
All leaders must realize that hurting people hurt people. And no one is closer to those who have been traumatized by past experience and their own story than a small group leader. When someone verbally attacks a small group leader, that leader must be wise enough to understand that on the other side of the anger is a group member who will soon be set free. If the group leader is overly sensitive that group leader will defend his or her self and miss the opportunity to nurture the overly aggressive and disparaged group member.

2. Views the leadership role as equal with all other roles.
The group leader that exhibits humility is the group leader that gains influence in the lives of group members. Too many small group leaders view the layout of a small group from the world’s perspective. The world will draw a flow chart and will always place the person with the most clout at the top of the flow chart. That is, the leader. Everyone else falls below them and are not equal with them. Not so in Christianity. The leadership gift is equal to all others. In fact, the leader who gains influence first serves those they lead.

3. Sees the potential in every group member.
Great small group leaders acknowledge that one of their primary responsibilities is to help group members become more than they are at present. This is done as group leaders work in tandem with the Holy Spirit to nurture, raise the bar for, and train small group members. For this to happen the leader must first see the potential in every group member. This vision allows the group leader to realize their efforts will not be wasted and that they will soon see the fruits of their labor.

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 of Countdown: 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.

FREE Easter Bible Study

In the midst of March Madness, we’d like to provide your group with a FREE Easter bible study, courtesy of Bible Studies for Life. Be sure to download this study to use with your group and celebrate Easter together.


Image courtesy of Thinkstock

With Easter still a few weeks away, it’s time to make plans for your group if you haven’t already. Whether you are finishing your current study or would just like to pause and focus on Easter as a group, this Easter bible study is the perfect opportunity to spend time exploring the rich depth of our Savior’s resurrection and all that it means in the life of believers and those who are not yet believers. May it point you and your group to a deeper and more meaningful Easter experience this year.

Download your FREE Easter Bible Study HERE.



Group Leader Skills: Discovering the Spiritual Gifts of Your Group


Image courtesy of Thinkstock

Have you ever thought of your group as a laboratory? What if you used it to conduct an experiment? The anticipated outcome would be that group members would help one another discover their gifts and try them out. Here are a few guidelines:

1. Hypothesis
Every person in your group has a gift and every gift is important for the health and mission of the group. This hypothesis has the truth of scripture to back it up! In verse 7 of 1 Corinthians 12—a key chapter on spiritual gifts—the apostle Paul writes that gifts are given to be beneficial (HCSB) to the group, that is, for the common good (NIV). The word is the Greek sympheron. A group is like a symphony orchestra. Everyone has a part and every part matters!

2. Early trial
Some find a spiritual gifts inventory helpful to begin the quest to discover the group’s gift mix. CLICK HERE to download a Spiritual Gifts Assessment for each member of your group. One church has taken the initiative to develop this into an online assessment, CLICK HERE to access the online version. This is simply a place to start. You cannot discover your gifts just by taking a survey!

3. Mix
Every group has a unique “mix” of gifts. Discovering that mix will help a group discern its unique mission. Therefore, it is important for members to help one another discover their gifts. In fact, it is more important than discovering your own gift! Catch someone doing something right! Then suggest that it might indicate their spiritual gift. Read Romans 12 for a description of what a gifted group might look like.

4. Focus
Your focus should not be on you! Make it your goal to learn what gifts God has entrusted to your group and what that means in terms of what God would have your group be and do. Take a look at Philippians 1 for a good passage to guide you.

5. Purpose
Ephesians 4 provides the purpose of gifted people: the training, preparing, or equipping of the called out ones (saints). The Greek word is katartizō. Ten different words are used to translate it in the HCSB: equip, train, mend, restore, prepared, created, framed, complete, mature, united. These words describe the purpose of a group and imply a variety of gifts. Each is important. The group’s purpose is limited if even one is underemployed.

6. Reflection
To some degree, every group becomes like its leader—and reflects its leader’s gifts. If a shepherd guides the group, it is more likely to sit in a circle and enjoy a conversation. If a person with the gift of teaching leads the group, it is more likely to be a group sitting in rows and hearing a presentation. A group with an exhorter as a facilitator will be strong on application. Which best describes your group?

7. Jesus
In Colossians 1, we learn that the fullness of God dwelt in Christ and that He emptied Himself for our sakes. None of us has every gift. Together, our group may have several of them. Ultimately, our goal is to be a reflection of Jesus, emptying ourselves in sacrificial service. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega. Put the various gifts in alphabetical order. Only Jesus has them all. Individually, none of us do. In community, we have many. The more we empty our gifts in service to others, the more we reflect the fullness of Christ. The gift thing is a group thing!

Spiritual GiftsTake your group through a deeper experience of learning about their gifts and how to use them with the group study, Spiritual Gifts: A Practical Guide to How God Works Through You.

You can find this study and other helpful tools on spiritual gifts at


David Francis is LifeWay’s Director of Sunday School. His latest book is Countdown: Launching and Leading Transformational Groups. David has previously served as Minister of Education at First Baptist Church, Garland, Texas.


President’s Day Icebreakers for Groups


Image courtesy of Thinkstock

Happy President’s Day! The third Monday of February is the holiday most use to commemorate the birthday’s of President George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. It has also taken on a more extensive role of honoring all the presidents of our country. I would love to see a national holiday to recognize the incredible ministry Small Group Leaders do in the lives of their members! Until that day, be intentional about celebrating and affirming the group leaders in your church. With that said, here’s a few icebreakers with a President’s Day theme to help your groups get talking.

1. If you were president for a day, giving you the opportunity to meet with anyone in the world, who would you meet with and what would you want to discuss with them?

2. Which of the following one liners, made by a president of the United States, best describes your feelings today? Why?

____ “If I were two faced – would I be wearing this one?” — Abraham Lincoln
____ “It’s true, hard work never killed anybody, but I figure why take the chance?” — Ronald Reagan
____ “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” — Franklin Delano Roosevelt
____ “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” — James A. Garfield
____ “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” — George Washington

3. Even U. S. presidents have things that most people don’t know about them. Did you know…

  • Ulysses S. Grant smoked at least 20 cigars a day. He died of throat cancer in 1885.
  • Andrew Johnson apprenticed as a tailor. He made own suits throughout his presidency.
  • Teddy Roosevelt was once shot in an assassination attempt while delivering a speech. “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot,” he told the astonished audience. “I give you my word, I do not care a rap about being shot; not a rap.” He finished the 90-minute speech with the bullet in his chest.
  • In 1940, the University of California bestowed Reagan with the Most Nearly Perfect Male Figure Award. The prize won him the opportunity to pose nearly nude for an art class.

What’s one thing the people in this group don’t know about you?

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.

More Valentine’s Day Icebreakers for Groups


Now that February has rolled around and Valentine’s Day is only a few days away, it’s a great idea to use this special day in your small group to leverage what people are already thinking about and connect the theme of Valentine’s Day to the truths of scripture. These activities are designed to work with all groups whether they are made up of couples or not.

Movie Love Quotes Match Game

Supplies needed: Game Sheet for each group member, pen/pencils, and small prize.

Preparation: CLICK HERE to download and print a “Movie Love Quotes Game Sheet”.

Activity: Pass out a “Movie Love Quotes Match Game Sheet” to each person (you can also play as couples). Announce that each person or couple has five minutes to correctly match the movie quote to the movie that quote was featured in. Once time is up go over the answers. The person/couple with the most correct matches in the time allotted is the winner.

Scripture Connections: Spread Your faithful love over those who know You, and Your righteousness over the upright in heart. — Psalm 36:10

Valentine’s Day “Who Am I”

Supplies needed: Cut out hearts, pencils, and small prize.

Preparation: Cut out enough paper hearts for each person in the group and have enough pens or pencils for everyone.

Activity: Match the fun fact with each group member

  1. Pass out a heart to each person in the group.
  2. Have each person write a little-known fact about their life (ex. I honeymooned in Canada, I met Billy Graham in an airport, I was born in Wyoming, I met my wife in the 9th grade, etc.) on one side of the heart, and their name on the other side of the heart.
  3. Put all the hearts in a bowl.
  4. The leader pulls one heart out, reads out the fact written on the heart, then the group members try to guess who’s heart it is.
  5. The person that guesses correctly gets the heart. The one with the most hearts wins the prize.

Scripture Connections: Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. — Psalm 139:23

For additional Valentine’s Day icebreakers, CLICK HERE.

Phil Davis has worked in small group ministry for the past eight years and is convinced that transformation occurs best within the context of authentic community. He is the Executive Director of Abba’s Way, a ministry that creates intentional and deep connection for fathers and their children. Follow Phil on Twitter@PhilBDavis.

Super Bowl Icebreaker Activities


Image courtesy of Thinkstock

It’s almost time for the biggest game of the year! You know a lot of people in your group will be watching the Super Bowl. So make use of this cultural touchstone as a way to break the ice during your next group gathering.

The following activities have been selected from previous icebreaker posts on this blog. They can benefit your group any time of the year, of course, but they’ll be especially interesting and fun this week.

Name Challenge
Consider this a modernized version of the old “sword drills” from back in the day. Challenge your group members to think of NFL team names that are mentioned in the Bible.

There are 11 total, according to the HCSB translation:

If you have time, you could give extra points to those who are able to find specific references to these teams in the Scripture text, but only if it’s without electronic device support.

Toss the Pigskin
Bring a football to your next group meeting—either a soft Nerf ball or a regular leather football. Explain to your group members that the person who is holding the football is the only person allowed to talk during the discussion. Once a person has shared, he or she can toss the football to the next person who wants to talk, and so on.

Note: This is a very helpful activity for new groups because it helps group members get used to the rhythm of talking and listening during a discussion. It’s also a great way to include hands-on (kinesthetic) learners, who will appreciate tossing and catching the ball.

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 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!


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.