Does the search for small group leaders ever end? If you are the small groups pastor or lay leader and your ministry is multiplying, and it needs to be to keep it healthy, the answer is no. When I first started the small group ministry at Bay Area Fellowship, I looked up and realized I was spending a huge amount of my time trying to find new leaders. I remember thinking how great it would be someday when I could sit back, relax, and focus on other things. 170 groups later, I am still waiting for that break. Finding new leaders was the number one issue I faced when I had five groups, and it is the number one issue I face with 175 groups. It has not changed for me, and I doubt if it will change for you. One of the great growth moments for me as a Pastor was when I accepted the fact that the break I was hoping for was not coming. Once you have accepted that fact, you can work on a plan to deal with the inevitable.
If finding leaders is an ongoing problem, how do you deal with it without letting it frustrate you or rob you of your desire to lead? I have seen too many pastors who gave up on small groups because they got tired of always having to deal with the lack of leaders. It is hard enough to find leaders to start with, but then add the existing leaders that quit on you, and some pastors feel like they are constantly taking two steps forward and three steps back. Because I did not want to lose my heart for small groups, I decided I needed a plan to deal with this issue.
I realized pretty quickly that I had already personally asked everyone I knew to lead a small group and that a new plan was needed because that just was not working. It came to me that the best resource for new leaders was current leaders. I had to ask myself, "Why weren't our groups multiplying like I wanted them to?" The answer was that, while I hoped they would multiply, I really did not have a plan in place that would make it happen. Small groups do not just multiply because we want them to.
With this knowledge, I put together a plan to create a ministry that multiplies. It has taken time, but I have created what I call a "Multiplication DNA" in our small groups ministry. We laid out a plan that would insure that every small group leader, coordinator, and attendee understood the importance of multiplication. Attendees were taught that their leaders would be raising them up to lead a group of their own someday. Leaders and Coordinators are taught that multiplication is expected and part of their leadership role. When it becomes common knowledge that groups are required to multiply, then leaders go about working on it and attendees are expecting it. With that in mind, here are some ideas that can begin to create the "multiplication DNA" in your church.
Make group multiplication a part of your original small group leader training.
The first thing I would ask you is: "Are you doing small group leader training?" If not, you need to be. Every small group leader in our ministry is required to go through leader training prior to starting a group. I believe this is the most important training your leaders will ever receive. In the first meeting, you need to clarify the role of leader and the requirements that come with the role. There are many things we talk about in this first meeting, but nothing is more important than their role in leading a multiplying small group. Every leader leaves that training understanding that part of the role of small group leader is to reproduce their leadership in those who are attending their group. They hear about multiplication at their first training, and they leave understanding that they are required to talk about it at their first meeting, and regularly after that. The first training is where you start casting a vision for multiplying small groups. This is where the seed is planted. If you do not plant the seed, then do not expect to grow anything. If you already have problem groups that are closed and do not multiply, then you may have to get smaller to get healthier.
You are now sending your leaders out clearly understanding their role. They will begin from day one by casting the vision for multiplying groups. Casting the vision on day one is crucial, but for any vision to stay alive, it must also be cast and re-cast regularly. The next step in creating the "Multiplication DNA" in your ministry is to find ways to keep the "Multiplication DNA" vision alive. Below are some of the methods I use to make sure that leaders are constantly reminded of this part of their role.
- Use email to do ongoing small group leader training. Everyone has email these days, so use it. I use email to speak on many leadership issues, but no matter what my primary topic, I never miss an opportunity to also talk about multiplication. I never send an email out to leaders without reminding them of the commitment they made to raise up new leaders. To insure that this happens, each leader signs a leader covenant before beginning their group, and part of that covenant is the commitment to multiply.
- Do two to three appreciation events per year simply to say thanks for the awesome work leaders do. We do not do training at these events because they are just about appreciating leaders for all they do. However, if you want to create the "Multiplication DNA" in your church, do not ever miss an opportunity to talk about multiplication when you have all your leaders together.
- Create a small groups newsletter. There are many things that you can do through a newsletter, but make sure that in every issue you talk about multiplication. Again, to create a ministry that multiplies, you have to talk about it all the time.
- Small Groups Blog. I would like to say that this idea is mine, but I got it from my friend, Pastor Phil Longmire, from Skyline church in La Mesa, California. He has a small group leader's blog. His blog is about everything that is going on in the small groups ministry. This is a great way to regularly spread the "Multiplication DNA" vision.
- Training through upper level management. In our system, we have Coordinators that oversee twenty-five groups each. One of the key roles of a Coordinator is to keep a list of people from each group that current leaders are preparing for future leadership. Each Coordinator is required to bring their list to our monthly Coordinator meetings. I keep those lists in my office so I can hold Coordinators accountable. Coordinators keep their lists as well so leaders are held accountable. Every system must have some type of accountability.
- Ongoing Leader training. We do not do a lot of ongoing leader training at church. We have found that people's lives are already extremely busy, and asking them to come to one training session after another is counter productive and helps create burn out. Much of the ongoing training is done when Coordinators visit their groups and when leaders come to events in the Coordinators homes. (This system is a whole article in itself.) The key here is that no matter where a group is meeting, someone is talking about multiplication every time they gather.
Do you see what we are doing? We are changing the way small group attendees, small group leaders, and small group Coordinators think. We are making sure that everyone in the ministry hears this multiplication thing so often that it just becomes part of what we do. Raising up new leaders never gets easy, but if you will create a ministry where multiplication is the norm, it will allow you to lead the ministry with a sense of hope instead of despair.