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A Small-Group Leader's Most Important Job

A Small-Group Leader's Most Important Job

You can benefit from the surprising results of extensive research on small groups.

Jim Egli  |  posted 2/15/2010

Note: This article has been excerpted from the The Small-Group Apprentice Orientation Guide.

A religious expert wanting to cut through the confusion of 613 Old Testament statutes came to Jesus and asked, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" Jesus gave his famous reply, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Mark 12:28-32).

Like the scribe who came to Jesus, I was a confused small-groups expert just a few years back. I kept hearing advice from a plethora of small-group authors and speakers, each promoting different methods and models. All of them were confident and persuasive, but their contradictory theories couldn't all be right. Someone needed to do cut through the confusion by doing serious, scientific research on what really creates healthy, growing small groups. We needed to look past the models to discover the key underlying principles.

I wanted to get to the bottom of things. I wanted an answer to the question, "What's the most important part of leading a small group?" I completed a Ph.D. degree and did extensive statistical research involving over 3,000 small-group leaders in more than 200 churches to probe that question, and the answer I found was surprisingly simple.

The most important dimension of leading a group is your prayer life—your connection to God as a leader.

What You Do in Secret

Along with my research partner—Dwight Marable, director of Missions International—I probed hundreds of items, asking questions about group dynamics, leadership behaviors, and group meetings. But the highest correlations to small-group health and growth were to the unseen dimensions of a group leader's relationship with God. Out of the hundreds of questions we asked, the leaders' answers to the following questions yielded the most pivotal results:

  • How consistently do you take time for prayer and Bible reading?
  • Are you praying daily for your non-Christian friends to come to know Jesus?
  • How many days in the past week did you pray for your small-group members?
  • Do you pray for your group meetings in the days leading up to it?
  • How much time on average do you spend in daily prayer and Bible reading?

The leaders whose answers revealed a strong relationship with God had groups that were healthier and faster growing. These groups experienced a deeper level of care between members, had a clearer sense of mission beyond their group, and produced more leaders and new groups.

However, the research revealed that the biggest difference a strong prayer life makes comes in the evangelistic effectiveness of a small group. One question that we asked group leaders was how many people had come to Christ through the influence of their group or group members in the past nine months. The contrast between leaders with a strong prayer life and a weak prayer life was startling.

Eighty-three percent of leaders with a strong prayer life reported that at least one person had come to Jesus through the influence of their group, whereas only 19 percent of leaders with a weak prayer life could say the same. It didn't surprise us that leaders with a growing relationship with God had groups that were bringing more people to Christ, but it was shocking how much of a difference it makes. Leaders with a strong prayer life have groups that, on average, have more than four times the evangelistic impact as groups led by leaders with a weak prayer life.

Topics:Apprentice, Group leader, New leader, Prayer, Preparation
References:Mark 12:28-32, John 15:5
Date Added:February 15, 2010

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Displaying 1–4 of 4 comments

yorum zaza

August 10, 2012  4:39pm

i would like to transform into a cell church

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Betty Ressler

May 25, 2011  3:55pm

It has been my experince that Prayer is the most important thing. The Group sizzles when I focus on prayer and flobs if I don't. So I say Amen!!!

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Susan Conrad

February 18, 2010  9:34am

Jim is so very correct! I come from a religious occult that stressed you could always tell true Christians by the fruit they produce. As Jim pointed out - Jesus is the vine we are merely branches - whose fruit is it? It is Jesus' not ours! What a difference this makes when we think about it - our small groups are not ours but our Creator's! He will always make sure they are blessed if we communicate with him our concerns and our triumphs! Thanks Jim for your continued guidance - simple but strong!! May Jesus continue to bless your efforts!


February 17, 2010  4:25pm

thank you for the great article. I have personally experienced this, having led a small group of students in the past. Basically I have been leading a group for almost one year but the group didn't seem to experience any growth, and we did not invite any new friends to the group. When we spend more time thinking what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, nothing fruitful really ever happens. But when I asked myself and every members of the group to pray more, God works in amazing and unthinkable way and the group are stronger than ever. To be honest, I have gradually begin to lose focus in prayer as the group grows, but this article has reminded me of the importance of focusing on prayer. God bless you and your ministry.

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