Make Your Group a Winning Team!

By viewing the church as a living organism, you can impact the world for Christ.

I have a confession. I like Mike. I like Mike so much that I named my first son after him—well, kind of. His name is Jordan Michael. I like Mike so much that I was selected as the biggest Michael Jordan fan in Anderson, Indiana, in 1993, the year of M.J.'s first retirement.

I like Michael Jordan for a reason: I like basketball, and he is the greatest basketball player of all time. Yet his first NBA team, the Chicago Bulls, did not win the NBA championship until his seventh season. That is when they assembled a great team around the greatest player.

Small groups are much like sports teams. One player, or one leader, does not make a winning team. It takes participation by everyone—teamwork.

That is the essence of the apostle Paul's description in 1 Corinthians 12 of the church as a body. What is more organic than the human body that God created. The human body is a beautiful example of different parts working in alignment with one another—of synergy, every part contributing in conjunction with all the others to produce a sum greater than all the individual parts put together.

Holistic Groups Utilize Everyone's Gifts

One of the smallest parts of the body is the cell—itself an incredible example of a variety of parts working together for the greater good. What goes for the church as a whole also goes for small groups, sometimes called "cells." Although one person may lead as the group's shepherd, each person has a spiritual gift to share with the rest of the group. Some may lead in hospitality, others may lead in administration or serving or encouraging or contributing to others' needs or by showing mercy.

There are basically three ways to determine people's gifts, abilities, and interests.

  • The first is to use a gifts assessment tool. These can be valuable, but they are not relational, and I believe they can pigeonhole people. I believe there are better, more organic ways of discovering gifts in a small group.

  • Another way is simply to ask, "What do you enjoy doing? How can you help lead this group? What have you found you are gifted at? What do other people say you are good at?"

  • Another way to discover gifts is to watch. As the group gets to know one another, people's gifts will start to become obvious— usually to everyone but themselves! Take time at a meeting to affirm each other's gifts. The group tells each person, in turn, what his or her gift is and why each person is an essential part of the team.

We can best "assess" or "discover" our spiritual gifts in holistic, dynamic community. The Holy Spirit activates those gifts according to God's will and purpose. Moses would not have said he was a "gifted" speaker or leader, but God gave him the words to say and the courage to lead. The apostles Peter and John were unschooled and ordinary men, but God gifted them to speak boldly and convincingly at his predetermined time and place. As your group grows in faith in God's mighty work, you too can experience God's giftings where you thought you had no special abilities or talents.

Holistic Groups Do Teamwork Drills

I love coaching kids sports teams, especially basketball. One of the most rewarding parts of coaching for me is taking a rag-tag group of kids who do not know one another at the beginning of a season and turning them into a team - a team that works together as one, each using his unique abilities for the good of the whole and a team that wins because five are better than one. As Coach John Wooden said, "It takes 10 hands to score a basket." It takes a lot of effort to build this teamwork—lots of drills and time spent together, both in and outside of practices and games.

Building a productive team as a small group is much the same. It takes intentional effort, both inside and outside group meeting times. It takes team-building drills such as these:

  • Go on a camping or hiking trip together and give each person a specific assignment.

  • Play a game such a volleyball, paintball, or a role-playing game against another group.

  • Participate in a shared work experience or serving opportunity.

  • Identify a common "enemy" or challenge together.

Remove the Obstacles to Teamwork

The biggest obstacle to building a team is a leader who will not or cannot share. I have found there are three main obstacles:

  1. The Heart: Some leaders have difficulty handing off responsibilities to others. It is either a lack of trust or a need to control, but either way, this attitude asphyxiates the group.

  2. The Habits: Some leaders have simply not learned to share leadership. When they were asked to lead, they thought it was their job to do everything, so they do. They lead by habit.

  3. The Head: I have known some leaders who are really good at everything—except building a team. Even though they have exceptional facilitation skills and Bible knowledge, their groups are unhealthy, stagnant, and sometimes struggling to survive. Why? Because group members do not sense they are really needed. The leader does everything. They just attend the meetings. They learn a lot from the studies and like other members of the group, and if that is enough to satisfy them they will stick around, but not much more.

If you have trouble building a team, what is your obstacle?

If it is the heart, ask God to help you change your attitude; ask for humility. Humility precedes surrender. It is not too difficult for a humble leader to surrender control of the group. Begin by asking God to change your heart to be more like Jesus'.

If it is the habits:

  1. learn the skills of building a highly functioning team

  2. change your habit

  3. let your group know things are going to be different

  4. apologize for not giving them opportunities and responsibilities in the past

  5. ask them to remind you to let them be involved

If it is the head, you probably need to recognize the issue and simply back off from doing everything. Swallow your pride; other group members may not lead the same way as you. Another attitude you may need to deal with is perfectionism. If that is you, work at becoming perfect at letting others be involved, even if they are not as good as you!

With God's help you can turn around the situations by removing the obstacles that keep you from building a team. One of the qualities of a great team is that everyone is working together toward a common goal. As a team, be sure to identify your goals—your God-sized plans—together, and then, as a team, just do it!

This article excerpted from Michael Mack's newest book, I'm a Leader, Now What from Standard Publishing ( See Mike's web page at for information about his ministry and training.

Free Newsletter

Sign up for our Weekly newsletter: Regular access to innovative training resources, Bible-based curriculum, and practical articles.


Leader Training Strategies

Leader Training Strategies

Informal and formal training strategies
Clearing the Way for Small Groups

Clearing the Way for Small Groups

How small groups became the central ministry at Zion Church
5 Ways to Invest in Your Small-Group Ministry This Summer

5 Ways to Invest in Your Small-Group Ministry This Summer

Now is the time to build up your ministry for a strong fall launch.
5 Ways to Develop Your Leaders This Summer

5 Ways to Develop Your Leaders This Summer

Take advantage of the slower pace to thank your leaders and prepare them for fall.
Train Leaders to Study the Bible

Train Leaders to Study the Bible

Leaders who know God's Word encourage group members to engage Scripture.
Healthy Ministries Provide Ongoing Training

Healthy Ministries Provide Ongoing Training

Your leaders need more than just start-up training.