Six Habits of Healthy Small Group Leaders
Because healthy leaders lead healthy groups.
By Sheila Ely
Healthy leaders come in all shapes and sizes and successful small-group leadership is not reserved for a mysterious few. Some would have us believe that healthy leaders are specially gifted, more educated, and have more vibrant personalities than others. Not so! Regardless of your gifts, marital status, personality, or talents, you are equally able to lead a growing group.
There are several characteristics, however, that all successful small-group leaders share. They have to do with what leaders do during the week. Healthy small-group leaders have incorporated certain habits into their life. And there's nothing stopping you from joining in.
Six Healthy Habits
No doubt about it, these habits require time and effort—but they are well worth it.
1. Consistent Time with God
Time spent with God is the single most important principle behind successful small-group leadership. Without this you have nothing real to offer your group members. You need to be growing spiritually if you expect your group members to. You are the model. You must get your wisdom from the Good Shepherd who knows the way.
2. Continual Learning
Do whatever it takes to improve as a leader. Read, listen to podcasts, attend conferences, find a mentor, talk to your coach, and attend your church's leader training events. Personal growth must be deliberate, planned, and consistent. The single most distinguishing factor between good leaders and great leaders is self-leadership, which involves things like discipline and overcoming discouragement. You should give 50 percent of your time to self-leadership.
3. Build a Team
Develop new leaders and find an apprentice as soon as possible. Take leadership development seriously. What will your group look like when you leave it in the hands of your apprentice? Successful leaders look beyond the urgency of the present to the importance of the future and spend priority time training new leaders. Encourage relationship building within the group. Don't do all the work yourself. Give away responsibility and your leadership. Delegate whatever you can to members of the group to avoid burnout. If you do, your group will become an exciting place of life change and development. Raising up future leaders is a biblical way of life. Moses tutored Joshua, and Elijah trained Elisha. The Apostles were recruited and trained by Jesus. Barnabas discipled Paul, who later developed Timothy. God has brought future leaders to your group. Are you developing them?
4. Listen Well
Listening will allow you to better connect with and learn from your group members. Change your listening to focus on the person speaking. Listen not only to the facts, but also to the feelings, meanings, and undercurrents. To improve your listening, you'll need to make time for people and find common ground with them. Learn to ask questions that will help you better understand the person and what he or she is talking about.
5. Share Your Faith
Small groups are the most effective way to expose non-Christians to the truth of the gospel. There are people who will attend your group but not your church. This is an opportunity to live out your faith and set non-Christians at ease. Are you including and inviting non-Christians to your group? Do you have relationships with non-Christians? It can be very easy for group members to become comfortable and turn their focus inward over time. As the leader you must always be challenging, reminding, and modeling relational evangelism.
6. Serve Others
The best leaders serve others, not themselves. Small groups provide a place for you to put others first. Once group members see your example, they'll begin to think about how to reach out into the community to serve in a variety of ways.
How Are You Doing?
Use the questions below to gauge how you're doing in the areas discussed. Where are you doing well? Where could you improve? How can doing these things help you avoid burnout?
Consistent Time with God
- How are you currently spending time with God?
- How is your prayer life, on a scale of 1–10 (1=lousy, 10=praying without ceasing)?
- How will setting up a consistent time with God help you avoid burnout and be a better leader?
- What are you currently doing to grow as a leader?
- What additional training and learning opportunities does your church offer? Are you taking advantage of them?
- How disciplined are you, on a scale of 1–10 (1=what's discipline?, 10=army sergeant)?
Build a Team
- What are some of the components of group life that can be delegated?
- How often do you delegate these responsibilities?
- What makes you nervous or afraid to delegate responsibilities?
- How well do you listen to others, on a scale of 1–10 (1=did you say something?, 10=I'm all ears)?
- What can you do to improve your listening skills? Who might be able to help you?
- How might learning to listen well change how you lead?
Share Your Faith
- Do you have relationships with non-Christians?
- How can you include non-Christians in your small group?
- How can you encourage group members to build relationships with non-Christians and invite them to group so the burden isn't solely on you?
- How often are you serving others in your community? How are you serving them?
- Share some ideas of small acts of kindnesses you could perform for a group member.
- What can you do within your group to promote serving one another?
—Sheila Ely has served as a small-group director and now speaks at conferences and consults; copyright 2005 by Christianity Today.
NOTE: This article is contained in a booklet published by Smallgroups.com entitled Healthy Small Groups. A copy of it is available on request for any McLane Church small group leader.