What Did I Get Myself Into?

What Did I Get Myself Into?

5 tips for when you start to panic about being a small-group leader

It’s easy to get swept up in the moment. Maybe you said yes to leadership after your pastor shared a compelling vision for small groups. Maybe you just finished a book about small groups, and you were eager to jump in. Maybe you’ve loved your experiences in past small groups, and you jumped at the chance to provide that for others. Whatever it was that pushed you over the edge into leadership, it’s perfectly normal to wonder why you ever took that step over the edge. What in the world did I get myself into?

There are a number of reasons new leaders feel anxious. Some begin to doubt their abilities. Some wonder about the time commitment. Others have their first meeting and realize their group members aren’t the kind of people they were expecting. Regardless of why you’re getting a little nervous, there are five things you can do to find that initial excitement again.

1. Get clear on the mission of your small group.

Any church small-group ministry has an idea of what they hope small groups will accomplish. Some churches want group members to form new relationships. Others want them to serve together. Still others focus on gaining Bible knowledge. Most want some combination of these three. It’s easy to feel anxious, though, if you aren’t sure which of these are most important to your church. Get crystal clear on the mission of your church’s small groups. This will ensure you’ll know what to focus on and how to gauge whether your group is successful.

If you’re leading a group that’s not connected to a church or ministry, you’ll have to figure out the mission of your group for yourself. Think: In six months, how would I know that we’ve been successful? Answering this question will help you focus on the most important thing for your group. Bottom line: if you’re accomplishing that mission, you’re successful. There are lots of other great benefits of small groups, but it’s important to focus on the number one goal.

2. Focus on one thing at a time.

As you think about your mission, however, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. After all, we often have lofty goals for our groups. Even a simple goal of forming new relationships doesn’t happen overnight. So instead of focusing on the completion of your long-term mission, focus on one thing at a time that will move you in the right direction. So if your goal is to form new relationships, focus on one thing that you can do at the next meeting to move toward that goal. At the first meeting, that might simply be introducing everyone to each other. At future meetings, it may mean seeing people stay after group for social time or planning an outing to the local ice cream shop. Pick your next step and focus only on that one thing.

Focusing on one thing also means being present with whatever you’re doing at the moment. So many small-group leaders make the mistake of rushing to the next thing. For instance, rather than listen to group members’ responses to a question, many leaders start to think about which question to ask next. One of the best things you can do for your group is to be present in the moment—whatever that moment entails. If that’s engaging in small talk before the meeting, be fully present with the people you’re talking to rather than thinking about how you’re going to start the discussion time. If someone is sharing a deeply personal story, listen well and ask follow-up questions. Stop worrying about the next thing long enough to soak up the current moment.

This takes a lot of pressure off leadership. You don’t have to be prepared for every possible thing that can happen in your group. You will handle those issues when you get to them. And if you don’t know how, say something like, “I’m not sure how to respond right now, but I will figure it out before our next meeting.” Your group members will appreciate your honesty.

3. Enlist help.

As new leaders get started, leadership can suddenly feel overwhelming. After all, you’re required to get to know your group members, ask questions, lead the discussion, pray, and more. But are you really? The truth is that small groups are stronger when group members help out and take ownership of the group. While you’re probably the best person to lead the discussion, maybe someone else could lead the prayer time. Find someone who can be in charge of planning fun group activities, and enlist someone who can host the meeting or take care of snacks. This can engage your group members in the group, and it can actually empower them to tap into their skills, gifts, and passions. You don’t have to do everything—and you shouldn’t.

4. Tell someone how you’re feeling.

New leaders who are beginning to question whether they want to be a leader often are afraid to tell anyone. They don’t want to look bad for going back on a decision, and they don’t want to let down their small-group pastor or coach. We worry about what others will think of us, especially if we’re still figuring out what we want to do. But here’s my advice: tell an “encouragement partner” who can hear you out, talk to you honestly, and pray for you. This may be your coach, a friend, another small-group leader, or someone else entirely. It feels vulnerable to do this, but I have found that leaders who do this feel so much better—regardless of what they ultimately decide to do. Our fears and anxieties always seem bigger in our head, so voicing them to a safe person can do wonders in giving us an accurate picture of what we’re feeling. Sometimes there are real concerns that need to be addressed, and your “encouragement partner” can help with that. Other times, we simply need to be encouraged to stick with it, and this person can help with that, too. Either way, this person can be a prayer partner, and that can make a huge difference in how you’re feeling.

5. Trust that God’s got your group under control.

One of the best lessons I’ve learned in small-group ministry is that God is in control—even of my small group. Of course, I always knew this, but now I know it. I’ve led a number of groups over the years, and they’ve all been very different, each bringing different worries. One was focused on inductive Bible study, and I was really worried about a person who dominated the discussion, talking way more than his share of the meeting. I learned a lot about facilitating great discussions because of him, but even better, I saw how God used that guy to actually encourage others. I had one group member who told me that he learned so much from his insights that they actually decided to meet outside of group to continue the conversation. Another person in that group decided to go on to seminary because he developed such a love for the Word after hearing this guy talk so passionately about the Bible.

In another small group that combined a seeker, people brand-new to their faith, and long-time believers, I worried about engaging everyone. Incredibly, we all walked away with deeper faith, having been challenged by the other group members. The younger-to-faith asked questions that others hadn’t thought about before. The more mature Christians were able to share incredible insights. The seeker found a safe place to share doubts and questions. There were nights that I wondered if we’d accomplished anything at all, but as I look back on the group as a whole, I see incredible growth and depth—and it’s still one of my favorite group experiences.

Despite my worries in both groups, God worked in mighty ways—and that’s the way he does it. Trust that God is in control and he will work in ways only he can. I’ve found it helpful to, instead of worrying about doing everything right, focus on what God is doing in my group in that moment and join him there. Some nights that means listening as we get off on an important tangent. Other times that’s calling on quieter group members to ensure everyone feels heard. What’s more important than getting it all right, is paying attention to the Spirit as best as you can—and then apologizing and remedying the situation when we get it wrong.

Yes, being a small-group leader is a big responsibility. Yes, it’s important to prepare for meetings. But remember that it’s not rocket science. Rather, your role is to show up, to do the best you can do in the moment, and to be humble enough to course-correct if need be. There are plenty of reasons to be anxious, but don’t let your anxiety keep you from experiencing one of the best adventures of your life. Your group members may just need someone exactly like you to lead them—and you may just need a group just like them to grow.

—Amy Jackson is managing editor of SmallGroups.com, a small-group leader, and a former small-group minister.

More on New Leader Questions

Related Training Tools

Start Your New Group
Start Your New Group
Everything new leaders need to start strong
Small-Group Leader Orientation Guide
Small-Group Leader Orientation Guide
A helpful overview of the basics of small-group leadership