How to Recruit Potential Small-Group Leaders

A step-by-step approach to an important slice of your group ministry

Effective small-group leadership requires particular abilities and developed skills. In a word, your ministry thrives on the gift of leadership. This means you need to take much care in recruiting your potential group leaders. In fact, selection of potential small-group leaders should receive the same kind of attention as does the selection of church officers.

Because so few church members have enough experience, training, or confidence to lead effective small groups, a church's pool of small-group leaders is typically small. Rare indeed is the church with enough small-group leaders in place to staff a congregation-wide small-group program. Fortunately, however, most churches probably have more than enough potential small-group leaders among their members. All that is lacking, then, is for you to call them forth and train them.

Because the task of recruiting potential small-group leaders is similar to recruiting church officers, your steering committee's recruitment process is like that of a church's nominating committee. First, list the desired qualities or characteristics for prospective nominees. Then use these criteria to select possible candidates. Finally, ask an adequate number of potential small-group leaders to consider this calling.

Listing Qualities of Small-Group Leaders

While you can find the necessary qualities or requirements for church officers in a church's constitution or by-laws, you'll probably have to develop a list of desirable qualities for small-group leaders. As with the creation of other elements in the planning process (such as purpose, goals, and strategy), it's best to brainstorm and generate a list of desirable qualities for effective small-group leaders.

Here is a list one church developed. The effective small-group leader:

  • Is open to others and willing to share.
  • Accepts others and is nonjudgmental.
  • Is willing and able to take initiative.
  • Is a good listener.
  • Is a growing person.
  • Is warm and supportive.
  • Has confidence in groups.
  • Has a healthy commitment to Jesus Christ.
  • Is committed to the church.

As is the case for church officers, you probably won't find many people that possess all of the desired qualities. Generally speaking, look for people who have healthy, effective interpersonal relations. A list of qualities such as the example above can serve as a guideline to discover people who have or who are likely to develop such characteristics.

It is probably unwise to nominate someone who is perceived negatively on any of the qualities on your list. For example, someone who is typically judgmental in interpersonal relations will probably have a difficult time leading an effective group with or without training. Moreover, someone whose faith commitment is antagonistic to Christian beliefs or who is a disgruntled, inactive member is unlikely to have a satisfying group leadership experience.

Once you reach a consensus on the qualities you desire in potential small-group leaders, you are ready to assemble and prioritize a list of prospects.

Discovering Prospective Small-Group Leaders

A number of people who possess the qualities of effective group leadership may not consider themselves, or have been considered by others, to be "leaders." Remember, what you seek are people who fit the qualities of a potential small-group leader.

To discover candidates for leading small groups, turn to your church's membership directory. This helps your committee to consider everyone in the congregation—not just those who come to mind or who are already serving in other leadership positions. At first, ask committee members to work alone, generating a list of leader candidates. Then the committee can compare notes and decide whom to ask to consider this ministry. A good way to achieve consensus is to list everyone's candidates on a blackboard or newsprint. Then discuss each candidate's qualifications for leading a small group.

Remind everyone that this is a call process, not a popularity contest. Neither neglect anyone whose name appears nor discontinue consideration of anyone on any grounds other than that the person does not fit the adopted qualities for effective group leaders. Let people decide for themselves whether or not they wish to participate—do not exclude any "qualified" prospects from your "to be contacted about training" list.

There may be one exception to this rule—if there are too many qualified candidates. If this happens, prioritize your list, taking into account the type of balance desired among your small-group leaders. Such factors might include gender, ethnicity, age, disability, marital status, level of involvement, years of membership, and faith development. In any event, take great care to ensure that the people you select represent your church's diversity. Overlook no group in the church for leadership in your small-group ministry.

Contacting Prospective Small-Group Leaders

The number of people you should contact depends on the number of new groups you project. For example, I know of a 250-member church that asked 15 people to participate in its training course. This included all its qualified prospective leaders, which was enough to lead the 10 to 15 new groups that were projected.

I also know of a 1,200-member congregation that generated an initial list of 120 qualified potential leaders. Because its steering committee expected many people on the list not to participate, it contacted all 120 prospects, calculating that they would train enough people to lead the projected 40 or 50 new small groups.

In both instances, the number of desired new groups was based on the expectation that one-third to one-half of their members would join a small-group ministry in its first phase of expansion. In my experience, this expectation is realistic.

But what if the number of new groups you project is greater than your number of qualified prospective leaders? In such a case I suggest you lower the number of projected new groups. Unqualified prospective leaders are likely to become ineffective group leaders, resulting in frustration for everyone involved. Your congregation must be realistic enough to work within its gifts and resources. If you find yourself in this situation, foster the notion that "small is beautiful"—to do otherwise for the sake of some artificial numbers game could well prove detrimental to your church's ministry.

Who should contact potential small-group leaders? In short, whoever is most likely to get a candidate to give serious consideration to the call. How should you contact prospective leaders? Either face-to-face or by telephone. Clearly and succinctly summarize the leadership qualities you see in the person and the commitment you seek.

Here are suggestions for an actual phone conversation:

I'm calling on behalf of our church's small-group steering committee. The fellowship committee recently formed our steering committee to expand our church's small-group ministry. This fall we'll be offering training for new small-group leaders. We expect to begin new small groups just after the first of next year. As we thought about members of our church who might be good small-group leaders, your name came up.
We thought of you because of your … (refer to the qualities you see, such as openness to others, warmth, and supportiveness). Our seven-week training course is set for Thursday evenings, late October through mid-December. We hope you will consider taking this course.
After the training, if you'd like to lead a group, that's great; if not, that's fine, too. We think the training will be useful to you regardless of your decision.
What do you think? Do you have any questions? Take some time to think and pray about this if you'd like. Let's be in touch by next Wednesday for your decision.

Excerpted from Small Groups in the Church: A handbook for creating community, © 1995 by the Alban Institute.

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