We’ve all been to small-group gatherings where the 90-minute meeting felt like 3 hours. Perhaps it’s the lack of meaningful conversation. Or it’s the numerous, long-winded prayer requests that grab the reins and take off in an exhausting direction. The solution is quite simple: help every group member see themselves as a minister. If your group meetings are longer than two hours―or just feel like they’re dragging―here are some helpful reminders and practical tips to move from drudgery to discipleship.
It’s not just about you―it’s about Christ in you.
Many small-group ministries make relationships a priority. Their small groups gather regularly for worship, encouragement, and fellowship―but they are not powerful. When I visit churches with small-group ministries experiencing jaw-dropping growth, I find group members who gather together in Christ’s name and fully expect Christ to be revealed through every member of the group, even the brand-new believers in their midst.
When your members understand they have Christ within and have received the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8), they will minister to others every day of the week. When this happens, your gatherings will be full of testimonies of God’s greatness since you last met. This is a form of praise and worship, and every group needs to experience it regularly!
It’s not about the curriculum or how a leader facilitates.
Years ago, I interviewed the members of a very successful small group. The leaders—an ordinary couple with little ministry training—birthed a half-dozen groups out of their original group in the previous three years. When I inquired about their meeting facilitation skills, one member laughed aloud and commented, “To tell you the truth, they aren’t really that good at running a small group meeting … but that’s not important to us.”
What was important to the members? A leader who loved them enough to pray for them daily, show them how to reach friends for Christ, and equip them to minister to other members of the group between meetings. The key is to focus on empowering your members to live out their Christ-centered ministry to others.
Sub-grouping increases member-to-member ministry.
We have consistently practiced creating sub-groups where member-to-member ministry can occur. One week, we will send the men to the kitchen table to share and pray for one another. Another week, we will break up into groups of three where spouses are not allowed in the same group for sharing and prayer. If children are present, we count them in, telling them God will use them powerfully if they will listen and speak up when they hear his voice for someone in the sub-group.
To make it easier, everyone receives ministry questions to share with their smaller group. Quite often, we add one sentence about being a good listener—with a reminder not to over-talk.
Sub-grouping is a great way to get the member-to-member ministry ball rolling. Once your group becomes familiar with it, and it’s not seen as uncomfortable, you can move into what is called “discover and delegate.”
Discover and delegate during prayer time.
Dr. Jim Egli, my small group friend and mentor, taught me something valuable. He encourages group members to consider the weekly meetings a “discovery time” for member-to-member ministry. By reframing the small-group meeting in this way, the group and its leader do not attempt to address all the prayer requests during one night of the week.
When a prayer request is shared during a meeting, the group members need to be quiet and listen to the Holy Spirit. One or two people in the group will feel a tug in their heart to pray for the person who shared the request. Those two people can take the person to a side room to pray with them briefly—then return to the meeting. To help grasp this process, here’s an example:
Frank is leading the group tonight. He has allowed 20 minutes for prayer requests and ministry at the end of the meeting. He knows it is not nearly enough time, and this is by design because it forces him to discover, then delegate.
During ministry time, one of the members—John—shares he is frustrated with his boss. He arrived to the group meeting angry, unable to focus on worship or the group discussion. Frank thanks him for sharing so transparently and asks the group members to wait on the Lord. After a minute or two of silence, Frank asks the group, “Who feels led to pray for John tonight?”
Brad and Allen can relate to what John is going through and offer to pray for him. Frank invites the three of them to step out of the room to pray for John, then return when they are done. Then the next person asks for prayer, and this process repeats itself.
Follow up on prayer requests outside the group meeting.
One of my biggest gripes with prayer requests in small group is the group will stop en masse to pray for someone and place what I call a “spiritual band-aid” on the issue, considering it healed by faith. The person usually shows up next week with the same prayer request. Additionally, this takes a lot of time during meetings.
This can be avoided by briefly meeting with those who prayed for others and received ministry during the meeting to create a strategy for follow up. The goal is to get to the root of the problem—not just pray away the negative fruit— so true freedom in Christ can be attained.
Going back to the earlier example, Brad and Allen prayed with John during the meeting about his polarizing anger. Frank huddles with Brad, Allen, and John right after the meeting to ask John what the Lord might be revealing to him about his situation. Frank asks Brad and Allen if they would be willing to get together with John in the next couple of days to see how John is doing. Their role will be to help John determine what his next steps should be, and what responsibility—if any—he needs to take for the situation. John might have issues with authority, need to draw some healthy emotional boundaries, or just talk more about his issue to see his part in it.
At this point, it’s important for the group’s leader to touch base with the members who have prayed with someone during a meeting, coaching them how to be good listeners and “bear one another’s burdens” in productive, healthy ways. What you do not want is for a very needy member of your group to consume the time and emotions of the other members who do not feel supported or fully trained to minister to deeply hurting people.
There is one last thing I have learned about member-to-member ministry: don’t delegate and forget—delegate and inspect! When someone receives ministry from other members of the group, and they are following up with the person, I check in with them to see what is happening and if I need to get involved as the group’s leader. I also pray daily for everyone involved, specifically asking the Lord for two things:
- “Give the person receiving ministry an understanding of the root of the issue and a desire to allow Christ to heal that wounded root.”
- “Give the members ministering to the person words of encouragement, supernatural knowledge to get to the root of the issue, and the ability to maintain healthy boundaries.”
Some members need a lot of ongoing ministry and possibly professional Christian counseling. Your role as the group’s leader is to recognize this and act sensitively and responsibly, knowing your group is only able to do so much for someone.
Are you ready to make a change?
If you’re excited about the possibilities of helping every member of your group become a minister and changing up meeting dynamics, it’s worth finding out whether your group members are willing. You will certainly face challenges and experience unforeseen outcomes, but powerful, Christ-centered ministry is not orderly—and it is rarely predictable.
When you delegate ministry to your members and help them learn to listen to the Holy Spirit and act in obedience, your small-group meetings will no longer be drudgery. And, they might just be shorter, too!
—Randall Neighbour is the President of TOUCH Outreach Ministries and the author of The Naked Truth About Small Group Ministry: When it Won’t Work and What To Do About It.