In this interview, Brett Eastman provides solutions to many problems usually associated with small groups and small-group leaders. Brett is the founder and president of LifeTogether.
It seems that there are never enough qualified and willing leaders for small groups. Where do you find them?
Most churches in America look at the ball field and try to identify nine star players. Take your eyes off the field and look at the stands. You will find more people there than in your wildest dreams.
So we don't have enough leaders because we're not willing to let ordinary Christians lead?
Right. Gather people in circles of two or three, share Christ, and start pulling them along. Suddenly, you're building a group from the bottom up. When most churches want to start or fix a small-group ministry, they build a little leadership team. I say, find people who want to be in a group based on something they share in common, and look for a leader.
Start with the people.
But who leads the group?
The group selects its own leader. In Acts 6, the people had a need. The apostles said, "Go ahead and select leaders from among yourselves."
I have underestimated the number of underused members in the body. The most natural process for identifying and confirming people in leadership is to let members of a group do the selecting. The chosen leaders feel a sense of blessing, honor, gratitude, disbelief, excitement, and fear—what I call the "sweaty-palm feeling." And the right posture for sweaty palms is hands in the air: "Lord, I need help."
I met with 45 such leaders three weeks ago, and they are the most teachable, responsive, scared, excited, reluctant leaders you've ever seen. I don't ever say, "If you want to be a small-group leader, come to this meeting." You know why? Oswald Chambers says, quoting Scripture, "If you seek great things for yourself, seek them not." You want the reluctant leaders, the people who would never show up unless their group chooses them.
How do you encourage new leaders who worry about their lack of biblical knowledge?
Gather them with other new leaders and have them coach each other. People need to get more than they're giving or they will not last for the long haul. You need to be available, nurturing, and affirming. You need to offer directive coaching.
I don't call these people small-group leaders. I call them shepherd leaders. Psalm 78:72 says, "David led with the heart of a shepherd and the skill of a leader." A shepherd leader just has to care about people to help them grow and develop.
Does a small group need a mission?
The purposes of the church are fellowship, discipleship, ministry, mission, and worship. All of those must be addressed in a small group.
On the first day that a group meets, a leader must make sure that each of those purposes is addressed. Someone is put in charge of fellowship and agrees to host a social for the group within the next two weeks. Someone else is in charge of discipleship, to help people take their next step spiritually. And so on.
Most small groups focus on care and content. They're strong in fellowship and discipleship, but that produces Christians who have more knowledge than zeal. How do you get zeal? You get people out of their pews and into missions, service, and evangelism.
Many churches have tried small groups and have struggled. Are they really worth the effort?
The goal is not small groups. The goal is developing people, and you can do that much more effectively in a group of ten than in a large group. Developing people happens more in life-on-life encounters than it does lesson-to-lesson or classroom-to-classroom or auditorium-to-auditorium. There's a huge difference between preaching in a big room and getting that message down to the life of each person. When one person's life changes, everything else changes.
The only way for a church to get larger is to get smaller. You want to get down to the smallest form, where people change, grow, and develop. When that happens, the church grows.
Copyright © 2006 by Christianity Today. Originally appeared in The Church-Leader's Answer Book (Tyndale House Publishers, 2006).