Getting more of your congregation involved

Churches hold a high standard for leadership but often the people they are attempting to recruit to lead small groups do not consider themselves to be leaders. Here’s how to solve the dilemma. | by Allen White

Small groups ministry is not a cookie cutter church “program.” Every church is unique.  Some churches have been there, done that with church-wide small group campaigns or semester-based groups or affinity groups or … you name it. Where best practices intersect with the unique culture of your church is the place that powerful things happen. A church in Arkansas is different from a West Coast megachurch. A church in Canada, New England, or the Pacific Northwest has different dynamics from churches in the Southeastern U.S. or the Midwest.

Whether your church is large or small, new or old, or is distinct in its culture, ethnicity, socio-economic background, or denomination, your small groups can grow. Best of all, when small groups grow, the church grows. One of the first moves to make to boost your small groups is to identify potential group leaders.

One purpose an alignment series or church-wide campaign serves is to identify and recruit potential group leaders. Another purpose is to give the senior pastor the opportunity to engage in recruiting potential group leaders. When the sermon series is linked to the small group study or, even better, the pastor’s teaching is the basis of the small group study, the pastor is always more interested in groups. When pastors make the investment in creating small group curriculum, they want to make sure the curriculum is used to its full potential. They want as many people to lead groups as possible.

While there are other good reasons for alignment series like the whole church studying a topic together and getting more people into groups, all of this rests on the number of leaders a church will recruit. The more limitations the church puts on who can lead a group, the fewer leaders the church will recruit. Fortunately, the reverse is also true, but who is the church getting?

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Attempting to recruit a large number of leaders is a two-edged sword. On one side is the desire to provide a quality group experience with a qualified group leader. The other side is the simple fact that most people don’t consider themselves to be any kind of leader. As soon as you bring up the word “leader,” many people will decline your invitation to start a group. They want to help, but not necessarily lead. Many churches have found it helpful to do away with the term “leader” altogether.

In the early days of church-wide campaigns like  40 Days of Purpose, Saddleback Church chose to call people H.O.S.T.s instead of leaders. This took away the sense that people were being asked to do more than they felt qualified to do. The churches that I served used this strategy, and it worked for a while. But, after using the term “Host” in campaign after campaign, people became wise to the idea that “Host” really meant “Leader.” The jig was up. Now what?

Many of the churches I’ve worked with have dispensed with the terms “leader” and “host” all together. While many have struggled with what to call these folks, others have recruited for the function of a group leader without using the term. The invitation would sound more like “get together with your friends and do the study.” While the pastor invites people to “lead” a “group,” neither of those terms were used, and yet people would gather a group of friends and do a study together. See everyone is already in a group after all.

This is more than a rouse to get admitted non-leaders to lead groups. Churches should be stingy with the term “leader.” In the Bible, commissioning someone as a leader was a significant proclamation. In fact, Paul writes to Timothy, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands…” (1 Timothy 5:22, NIV). The sense here is that before someone is commissioned as a leader, they must prove themselves. It’s not enough just to select the “right” people and thoroughly train them, the church also needs to see them in action. Do they have the stuff to lead? In most cases, the church won’t know until they’ve actually seen the potential leader in action – actually leading something. Thus, the dilemma, if the church has a high standard for leadership, which they should, and the people they are attempting to recruit do not consider themselves to be any kind of leader, how do you recruit a significant number of leaders? You don’t.

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Let’s take this beyond semantics. This is not a debate of what to call someone or even of lowering the bar on leadership to the point where small groups seem unimportant because so little is expected. The dilemma speaks to the importance of a recruitment process that will bring in the maximum number of potential leaders possible without putting the church leadership into a scenario that bears an uncomfortable level of risk.

The answer can be found in viewing a church-wide campaign as a trial run to evaluate potential leaders. Campaigns are short-term commitments—usually around six weeks. The trial run can be safe for the potential leader by allowing them to “get together with your friends and do the study.” The trial run is also safe for the church by providing the curriculum based on your pastor’s teaching, offering a coach to walk alongside them, and not advertising these groups. (The church will need to advertise some groups, but the leaders should be known and proven.)

At the end of the trial run, potential leaders should be evaluated. Did they fulfill their commitments? Did they enjoy leading groups? Are they willing to continue? If they were successful, then offer another study. If they weren’t successful, then thank them for fulfilling their commitment.

It’s easier to recruit avowed non-leaders to a short-term opportunity to do a study with their friends. Once you see what they can do, then build on this experience and eventually commission them as leaders. CGM

CGM

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