How to Lead A Small Group

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We recently put up a question box on Insta asking what you guys want us to talk about on the podcast. One of the most popular questions we received was “How do you lead a small group?” We’re excited to dive into this question!

While we did lead a small group for a year and a half, we humbly offer advice knowing that we do not have all the answers. We also know that there is not necessarily a right or wrong way to lead a small group.

Also, we did not write this because of the small group we are in. We love it, and we think our pastor does a great job leading it. Just throwing that out there. 

This is a request we’ve gotten quite a bit so figured we’d do it!

The Typical Small Group

Before we jump into what most small groups look like, we need to acknowledge that there are some churches that do small groups really well.

Typically, small groups look like this: Chill for a bit, read a little bit of the Bible or another book, people say what it means to them, everyone gives some superficial prayer requests, and everyone comes back the next week to do it all again. 

But, it leaves people spiritually immature (1 Corinthians 3:2, Hebrews 5:12). As both leaders and members, we have a responsibility to do everything within our power to cultivate deep community and grow from spiritual milk to meat. We believe that these small groups function best under the authority of the local church.

We’ve talked about it before on the podcast, but let’s review John Wesley’s Three Components of Church. We cannot share it enough.  All three are helpful, and I would argue necessary for growth unto maturity for believers. 

  • Societies: Large group gatherings. Corporate worship, corporate prayer, hearing God’s word preached, etc. Gathering as the body of Christ
  • Classes: A mixed group of 10-12 individuals to focus on the intentional study of God’s word and prospering the soul (basically what we think of small groups). 
  • Bands: around 5 people of the same gender and marital context who intentionally confessed sins, repented, and sought to help each other grow in holiness.  

I (Nathaniel) take part in all three and view them as necessary in my walk with Christ. When we’re talking about small groups, we’re focusing on the second category: classes.

Now, let’s talk about how to lead a small group. Even if you’re not leading a group, you can take these principles to help influence your group.

1. Establish the Why

If we don’t have a why, it is so easy to drift off course into meaninglessness.

When God created mankind, he gave them their why: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).  He also commanded them NOT to eat of the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:16-17).

If you look at any corporation, they have a mission and objectives they are trying to meet.

We are passionate about the fact that growth requires intentionality, and this is true in every facet of life: marriage, parenthood, and so naturally it should apply to small groups. 

In the small group that we used to lead, we set our own mission (alongside the members of our group). Our mission was the “Five Ls.”

  • Love: We sought to love God and others.
  • Learn: In order to properly love God we needed to grow in our knowledge of Him.
  • Live: What we learned should transform our lives. We live out what we believe. 
  • Lean: We wanted to lean on the Holy Spirit (not our own power) and rely on Him.
  • Laugh: We wanted to have fun and laugh together.

Then, we established more in-depth what each of those meant and how we could grow in each area. But ultimately it boiled down to those five words. 

2. Review the mission regularly

If you establish your mission but never evaluate whether you are meeting it, then what good is it?!?

Every week, we would have someone remind us of the 5 L’s, and someone would share how they saw either themselves or someone else in the group do one of those. 

Then once every other month, we would have a deeper evaluation. What is going well, and what isn’t? What do we need to grow in as a group?

These were vital and necessary for our group. The more you talk about your goals and mission, the better it will be ingrained in your brain.

3. Give people roles to fill

In Ephesians 4:11-14, we see that leaders have been given their gifts for the equipping of the saints! As a small group leader, you have been tasked with the responsibility of helping the people in your group be equipped!

1 Corinthians 12 talks about the spiritual gifts… each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good! Every Christian is given a gift.

Everyone is given different gifts and we should all seek to utilize different people’s gifts! 

Practically, in our group, it was as simple as bringing food. We had prayer and worship night and one person in our group was a gifted singer and musician, so she would lead worship. Another person was an absolute prayer warrior, and she led our prayer time. We utilized the gifts of our people

Also, you don’t have to over-spiritualize everything. We would provide the main meal each week and everyone else would bring a side. We would have burnt out trying to provide a full meal every week- divvying up responsibilities helps the leaders as well! Don’t deprive the members of your group from the opportunity to serve and exercise their gifts!

4. The structure

Different structures can be beneficial. You just gotta do what is best for your group. Here is what we did every month: 

  • Week One: Focus on Scripture: fellowship, highs/lows/buffaloes (our favorite way to check in with others), Bible intake, breakdown of the Scripture, prayer requests, and end in fellowship. We wanted to train and equip our members to study Scripture and even go on to teach it.
  • Week Two: Prayer and worship night: fellowship, high/lows/buffalos, worship and prayer, and end in fellowship.
  • Week Three: Same as week one, we’re diving into scripture again. 
  • Week Four: Questions a skeptic might ask: we would pose a question the week before, all prepare for it during the week, and then come and answer it together. So the night would be fellowship, high/low/buffalos, diving into the question, prayer requests, and ending in fellowship. 
  • Week Five (if applicable): just a casual fellowship and game night!

We loved our group in NC and miss them a lot- they were a special group!

5. The main focus should be the Bible

The Bible is the inspired word of God- it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). 

We should be teaching people how to read the Bible for themselves. The goal is that we won’t be needed anymore!

It can be helpful to read a different book together or do a topical study. There are certainly times and places for those. But remember that we want to help people become biblically literate for themselves. If someone has been in your small group for a year and doesn’t know how to read the Bible for themselves that would be a travesty.

6. Be willing to gently correct

As small group leaders, we should be willing to gently correct others when they are errant in their theology or reading of the Bible. Oftentimes we don’t view small groups as a time of correction. We don’t want to step on toes or hurt anyone, so we often shy away from correction. But we encourage you to do this gently and broadly in public and gently and specifically in private. It takes effort and time to do this well.

7. Praise your people both publicly and privately

Similarly to correction, be willing to praise your people when they reveal a great truth, they are honest or transparent, or anything else worthy of praise. 

Be willing to do so publicly, but also be willing to text them, call them, or when you see them say how thankful you are for them. Show and tell that you value and appreciate each member and what the Lord is doing in their life. Our current small group leader does a great job with this.

8. Take it seriously

James 3:1 says “Not many should be teachers because they will be judged with greater strictness.”

This passage scares me to death. If you are leading a small group, you naturally have a responsibility of teaching God’s word. 

Take this seriously! Your prep time should not be haphazard. You should give yourself ample time to prepare. If you were going to preach a sermon to your congregation you would naturally prepare. But oftentimes when leading a small group we do not give the same intentionality to it, even though small groups have the potential to be even more impactful than large group gatherings!

9. Make sacrifices for your group

We desired for our small group to live out Acts 2:42-47. Our small group was full of college students and young adults. If someone’s car battery went out, our small group pitched in for them to get a new one. If someone was really sick, we would pitch in to buy food and someone would bring it to them. We made food every week. 

Understand the needs of your group and seek to meet them.

One thing I love about our current small group is the support everyone offers each other. If someone’s kid is in a play, the small group goes and sees it. Someone gives a speech, and the small group goes and sees it.

A small group is the perfect opportunity to facilitate sacrificial living, but you need to initiate and be intentional about it. 

10. Ask for input

Ask other small group leaders how they lead their groups. You should also ask your small group how they would like it to be led differently.

Have the humility to ask others and your group how you can grow. Also, give others the opportunity to lead!

The most growth comes when you humble yourself and get the advice of others.

11. Bathe everything you do in prayer.

We do not bring the growth, God does. Too often we can be so self-dependant that we neglect the necessity of God. We need to rely on Him for everything we do. 

“Prayerlessness is a declaration of independence.”

Daniel Henderson

We need God. 

One Degree Shift

Even if you aren’t a small group leader, there is something you can take away:

If you aren’t in a small group, join one!

If you are already in one, maybe you should be more sacrificial in yours. Pick one way you can grow as a small group member and seek to implement it in your own life.

Want to Stay a Little Longer?


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Welcome to our cozy virtual couch on the internet. Our biggest prayer is that you'd feel welcomed into an honest space to be real, and ultimately, to grow to be a more faithful follower of Jesus.

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