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Everything You Need to Know About Leading a Small Group

A couple is leading a small group around the kitchen table.

So you’re thinking about leading a small group? Cool. We’re guessing you have a heart for God and people. Sounds like you’ve already got the stuff of a great leader.  

Small groups have become a popular way for churches to connect people and build community outside of the weekly service.

But what is a small group, anyway? Maybe you think you know. It’s just a bunch of friends hanging out to talk about God, right? Well . . . kind of. If God’s called you to lead a small group, He’s given you the opportunity to radically change people’s lives—and your own. But it’s more than just cracking open a Bible over coffee.

What Is a Small Group?

Small group. Life group. Home group. Call it what you want, every small group boils down to the same thing: an intentional gathering of people who meet regularly with the purpose of growing their relationship with God and others.

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There’s no one right way to lead a small group. They can be fun and social. They can be intensely personal. And it’s true that Jesus said if two or more gather in His name, He’ll be there too. But praying for a football victory with your buddies before your favorite team takes the field doesn’t (necessarily) make your game day party a small group.  

Every small group has three main traits. Let’s break them down.

A small group is intentional.

God designed us to be in community with others. But in our mile-a-minute lives, a lot of our relationships amount to water-cooler conversations and how-you-doing high-fives. Even worse is when we put our relationship with God on the backburner. I never have enough time for prayer. I’ll read that Scripture tomorrow.

We make time for what matters to us. Joining a small group is basically saying, “God and people matter to me. I’m making time for both.” It’s a deliberate choice.

A small group meets regularly.

Small-group meetings are not last-minute—like that group text your friend just sent asking if anyone has time to snag sushi tonight. (Sorry.) A small group is planned. It’s expected. It’s a priority. It’s so important to you, it’s written in ink on your calendar. As the group leader, you set the schedule. Consistency is key.

A small group has a purpose.

A small group is more than just hanging out. It’s about digging into each other’s lives, building each other up, and encouraging each other to seek God. It’s okay to plan a weekly watch party with your friends for your favorite show. Just don’t call it a small group.

Topics for Your Small Group

Here’s where you lock in the purpose of your small group—and it comes down to this: Who is going to be in your small group, and what do you want them to get out of it? But also, consider this: A small group isn’t just for your members. It’s for you too. How do you want to grow by leading?

Bible Study

Whether you’re breaking down a book of the Bible or reading a Scripture-based book on a specific topic, digging into God’s Word is a tried and true small-group strategy. Take your pick of guided devotionals and study guides. You’ll find everything from Acts to Zechariah and anywhere in between. You don’t even have to choose ahead of time. Let your group members decide what they want to study.

Men’s/Women’s Study

Brace yourself for this: Men and women are different. Shocking, we know. But in all seriousness, some things are hard to share in mixed company. As a leader, you create that safe space. Leading a men- or women-only group gives your members permission to let their guard down and form deep, meaningful brotherhoods and sisterhoods.  

Marriage

For this one, it’s safe to say you should probably be sporting a certain ring on a certain finger on a certain hand. Marriage is amazing. Marriage also comes with its unique set of challenges. By leaning on other couples for support, you’ll find it’s easier to stay on the same page with your spouse and keep Christ at the center of your marriage.

Money

Think personal finance isn’t spiritual? You’d be wrong. Proverbs 22:7 says, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” The truth is, people have a lot of stress, worry and fear when it comes to money. Debts and financial emergencies are soul-crushing. Help your group members understand God’s ways of handling money so they can find peace with their finances.

Small-Group Icebreakers

So, you throw a bunch of potential strangers into a room and ask them to open up about their deepest feelings. Congratulations, you just created a hotbed of awkwardness. It’s okay. Trust takes time. But unless you like the sound of shuffling feet and uncomfortably long pauses (probably not), you’re going to want to lighten the mood.

Your group members are about to spend a lot of personal time together. They’re probably not ready to dive headfirst into trusting relationships on Day 1. But dip a toe? Sure. That’s what icebreakers are for. Try these time-tested icebreakers to get your small group warmed up to each other.

Two Truths and a Lie

It’s a classic for a reason. Each person makes three statements about their life: two truths and one lie. For example: I’ve never traveled overseas. I’m an only child. I have a pet hamster named Merlin. The rest of the group tries to figure out which statement is the lie. Surprises are guaranteed.

Highs and Lows

Start each meeting by asking everyone their high and low for the week. You’ll get a quick pulse on how your group members are doing, as well as opportunities for prayer. At first, their answers will be pretty surface level. I got dinner with a friend. I had a stressful day at work. As their trust grows, so will the depth of their answers.

Yarn Web

Hold the end of a ball of yarn or string and tell your group three things about yourself. If anyone has even a thread of connection (pun definitely intended), keep holding the end and toss them the ball. Then, they’ll share three things about themselves. And so on. By the end, you’ll all be tangled and tripping in a web of yarn—and you’ll have learned how connected you really are.

The key to a good icebreaker is knowing your audience. Total strangers? Keep it light. Close friends? You might be able to get more personal.

The Ultimate Small Group Discussion Guide

The key to a good icebreaker is knowing your audience. Total strangers? Keep it light. Close friends? You might be able to get more personal. Download this guide to see even more icebreakers and find the best one for your group.

How to Lead a Successful Small Group

The word “lead” gets a bad rap. Yes, as a small-group leader, you’re on the hook for setting the tone for your group. But you may think leading means having it all figured out. Guess what? You don’t. Good news! You’re not supposed to.

There’s no such thing as a natural-born leader. When you were born, the doctor said, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” Not, “It’s a leader!”

God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called. Start with these principles for leading a successful small group. Then, hand the reins over to God.

Authenticity starts with you.

For a lot of people, vulnerability is a four-letter word. Even in the best cases, joining a small group of strangers is uncomfortable. You’re the leader. So. You. Go. First. Share the places in your spiritual life where you’re struggling. When you trust the group with your story, they’ll start to trust you with theirs. Yeah, trust is hard. But in a small group, it’s everything.  

Accept that you won’t have all the answers.

At some point in your group, someone will have a difficult situation. Someone will have a tough question. It’s okay to say “I don’t know.” Here’s why—God didn’t call you to lead a group because you’re a 4.0 GPA Christian (because you’re not). He called you to love, support and encourage. Do that.

Relationships come first.

Don’t let the plan get in the way of people—especially if you’re following a curriculum or book. If a group member is hurting, the study goes to the side. You can always pick it up later, but you can’t get back an opportunity to put love in action. Years from now, your group may not remember what Beth Moore said about 1 Thessalonians, but they will remember how well you loved them.

Pray.

This is Small-Group Leader 101. Pray often for each one of your group members—by name. Pray for the ways they’re struggling. Pray for the ways they’re trying. Pray God will give you His love for each one of them, especially the difficult ones (yeah, there will be some of those). Basically, in all things—pray.

Don’t try to fix their problems.

That’s God’s job. Your job is to create a safe place where your group members feel like they can share the hard parts of their lives without judgment.

Respect their time.

If you set a group meeting to last an hour, keep it to an hour. No one wants to feel like they’re being held hostage. If someone wants to stick around for a one-on-one, that’s fine. But your group members have committed to this time with you in the middle of a life full of other commitments. If you get long-winded, they may be long gone.  

Embrace silence.

There’s a reason the word “awkward” often comes before “silence.” It’s straight-up uncomfortable. You might be tempted to speak up just to break the tension, but don’t rescue the situation! A little silence is a good thing. It could be the sound of someone gathering the courage to say something really personal.

At the end of the day, the success of your small group isn’t measured by how many people show up or stick it out. God’s in the wonder-working business. He can transform someone’s life just because you agreed to lead. But if you’re looking for a small-group study that’ll change your group’s entire lives (and their family trees) lead a Financial Peace University class. It’s the nine-lesson, biblically based class that has helped nearly 6 million people leave money stress behind.