Small Groups: Finding the right leaders

Now it’s pretty normal to have small groups in your student/adult ministry. Launching and administrating small groups is a totally different matter. If you’re like me, I want to see the best in people so sometimes I overlook  yellow flags that might cause serious grief later. When it comes to recruiting volunteers, I’d like to say that ministers are good at recognizing red flags. So, why do our small groups blow up sometimes? Let’s look at a couple things we learned in our ministry.

6 Leader Essentials-  

1. Age Matters

Typically, I’ve seen two different types of small group ministries in student ministry. I’ve seen the groups where students lead other students and I’ve seen groups that have adult volunteers. One of the things that we need to realize is that age matters when considering small group leaders.

Student led groups- Students leading students sounds great, but what about maturity? What about being able to speak into serious life events beyond their experience? As I mentioned above, the groups that my friend had that employed student leaders never went very deep. Have you heard the old saying, “You can only lead someone as far as you have gone?” That applies here. I’m not saying that I’m totally against student led groups, but at the end of the day we need to remember that those students we’ve been mentoring are still students and subject to acting like it.

Adult led groups- I believe that these type of groups are more effective at mentoring and discipling students. We used these types of groups in our ministry. Age matters here too. I remember a time where we picked a person to lead a small group. This person was younger. The problem wasn’t her age, but the age that we put her with. When we paired her with a senior group, we had some issues because their ages were to close. The students saw her as a friend instead of a leader. The next year, she was paired with a younger group of girls and everything worked out. As a general rule of thumb, I would go for older small group leaders. They may not be as cool, but their maturity will have big dividends. They also get instant swag for being able to speak into the lives of a student because their life experience enables it.

2. Spiritual Maturity 

As a pastor who has needed leaders for small groups, I understand time constraints and people who back out at the last minute. However, far to often, our need to get “boots on the ground” outweigh the screening process. If we are entrusting these adult leaders with spiritually developing students, we need to make sure that they are spiritually growing as well.

Good questions to ask: When was the last time you read your Bible? What do your Bible studies look like? What is something that God has shown you through scripture this week? What’s your prayer life like? Do you have a routine for spiritual development? Are you currently struggling with any reoccurring sin issues? Are you holding any grudges?

3. Social Maturity

This is simple. Pick and adult that acts like an adult. The primary role of a small group leader is to lead through discipleship. You can’t always be the friend. Spreading the age range out between leaders and the group helps here, but I’ve met older people who still are consumed with the high school life. Pick someone who won’t gossip, who won’t hide things from parents (or you), and pick someone who doesn’t need students to validate their worth.

It’s simple, but if we don’t get this right, look for a world of hurt.

4. No hidden agendas

It’s also important for your potential leaders to be on the same page as the ministry. If you aren’t careful, you might encounter someone who wants use their influence as a small group leader to create division. I’ve seen this with an adult who only wanted to be with a very specific group of girls. She refused to room with any other girls on trips and socialize with anyone else on Sunday mornings. This woman was great, but her hidden agenda and lust for gossip were damaging to our ministry. I finally had to let her go.

5. Friendliness

You need to pick leaders that like students or adults. We had a guy that wanted to lead a group as a way of serving the church and growing spiritually himself. We took him on a “trial” trip to Holiday World. He bombed the test. When we got to the park, he left his student group to go ride rides by himself, we witnessed him yelling at students later in the day, and he proudly told everyone he didn’t like kids. RED FLAG. He was never asked back.

6. Background Check

It’s simple. Background Check, Background Check, Background Check your potential leaders BEFORE you place them in a student environment. If you don’t background check leaders, shame on you. Get your act together and retro-check everyone that works with your ministry. In today’s world, you can’t be careful enough.

What are the things that you’ve found to recruit the right type of leaders for your small groups? 

17 Comments

  1. These are great, can't wait to read the rest of this series. But the guy with Holiday world, couldn't he have grown to like kids? Ive seen this happen with a few, but can definitely see that it may not be the best to hope for the best in every potential volunteer.
  2. These are great, can't wait to read the rest of this series. But the guy with Holiday world, couldn't he have grown to like kids? Ive seen this happen with a few, but can definitely see that it may not be the best to hope for the best in every potential volunteer.
  3. Great post and thoughts! I always pick up something new about people's thoughts on small group leaders. Question: In our context we sometimes cannot always find the "spiritually mature" adult leader. Many times, the leader is maybe one step ahead of the students. What are your thoughts on an adult small group leader that spiritually is one step ahead of the students, yet fit all the other leader essentials? Thanks, Phil Steiner jacobswell.me
    • I would say a lot of that depends on whether or not your small groups' main purpose is fellowship or discipleship.  One isn't better than the other, but it will alter the needs of your leader.  If the main goal is fellowship,where you want to facilitate relationships in a healthy environment, build it around biblical truth still, but focus on fun and relationships, then i wouldn't have a problem with it.  If your goal is discipleship, where fun and relationships happen, but the focus is diving deeper into scripture than elsewhere in your ministry, I would be a little more cautious about letting someone "just ahead" lead out.   at the end of the day, though, it's your call as a leader.  you know the context, the dynamics, and the needs of your groups.  Ours are more discipleship based.  I've got some leaders who really "GET IT" and are on fire, and others that are a little less "there", but needed to be called up.
  4. Great post and thoughts! I always pick up something new about people's thoughts on small group leaders. Question: In our context we sometimes cannot always find the "spiritually mature" adult leader. Many times, the leader is maybe one step ahead of the students. What are your thoughts on an adult small group leader that spiritually is one step ahead of the students, yet fit all the other leader essentials? Thanks, Phil Steiner jacobswell.me
    • I would say a lot of that depends on whether or not your small groups' main purpose is fellowship or discipleship.  One isn't better than the other, but it will alter the needs of your leader.  If the main goal is fellowship,where you want to facilitate relationships in a healthy environment, build it around biblical truth still, but focus on fun and relationships, then i wouldn't have a problem with it.  If your goal is discipleship, where fun and relationships happen, but the focus is diving deeper into scripture than elsewhere in your ministry, I would be a little more cautious about letting someone "just ahead" lead out.   at the end of the day, though, it's your call as a leader.  you know the context, the dynamics, and the needs of your groups.  Ours are more discipleship based.  I've got some leaders who really "GET IT" and are on fire, and others that are a little less "there", but needed to be called up.
  5. I like how bold you are in the screening process. The point blank questions on their walk with Christ allows them to see the whole idea behind being a leader. Lead by example!
  6. I like how bold you are in the screening process. The point blank questions on their walk with Christ allows them to see the whole idea behind being a leader. Lead by example!
  7. Great article! I started helping with the small group for the "church kids". They were horrible! They purposely gave the "church answers", attempted to talk over me, and the list goes on. When asked about their behavior, they replied that  they were more on track that Sunday than any before (because I kept directing the conversation back to the curriculum). How would you respond to this issue?
  8. Great article! I started helping with the small group for the "church kids". They were horrible! They purposely gave the "church answers", attempted to talk over me, and the list goes on. When asked about their behavior, they replied that  they were more on track that Sunday than any before (because I kept directing the conversation back to the curriculum). How would you respond to this issue?

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