Note: This article has been excerpted from the Small-Group Leader Orientation Guide, produced by SmallGroups.com.
Being a small-group leader can be overwhelming. Deciding when and where to meet; choosing, acquiring, and understanding curriculum; finding people for your group; connecting with new group members; communicating with the group—is your head spinning yet?
Don't panic. Launching your new small group well can be boiled down into three simple principles: Start, Fill, and Keep. Think about it like a three-legged stool. It can only stand if all three legs are of equal strength and equal length. In order for your small group stool to stand, all three legs (Start, Fill, and Keep) must likewise be equal strength and equal length.
Starting is about preparing for the launch of your group. Filling is about finding people for your group. And keeping is about creating a group where people want to remain for the long haul. If you don't focus enough attention on one or more of these three legs, your stool will ultimately come crashing down.
Starting your group well is about just that: starting. The problem is that many people aren't ready to start their group because a solid start requires preparation. Passion is good, but preparation necessary.
So how do you prepare to start your group? First, pray. Pray that God will prepare your heart. Pray that he will empower you to lead. Pray that you will endure. Jim Egli and Dwight Marable recently released the results of a study they conducted with over 3,000 small-group leaders in 200 churches; they found that, statistically, the most important ingredient for successful small-group leaders is prayer. The following quote from their book Small Groups Big Impact is very telling:
We were surprised to discover that the amount of time spent preparing the Bible lesson shows no correlation whatsoever to small group growth. In other words, the leaders who spend five hours preparing the Bible lesson for their groups have groups that grow no faster than leaders who spend five minutes preparing the lesson! It does make a dramatic difference, however, how much time the leaders spends praying for his small group meeting.
Second, practice the "Marriott Principle." Have you ever had someone show up to your home unannounced? It's nice to have guests, but if you're not ready it's a bit unnerving. Marriott (and all good hotels) are always ready for guests. Make sure that you are ready to receive people when they come to your group. There's nothing more awkward for new group members than to show up and feel like they are an inconvenience. If your group meets in a home, make sure it looks like someone is home. Open the curtains/blinds and turn on a porch light. Make sure that there is enough seating. If you're going to serve snacks, have them ready early. New people will feel strange sitting in your living room while you are finishing up in the kitchen. If you're using video curriculum, place the TV where everyone will be able to see the screen.
Ultimately, just pay attention to details. Walk through your meeting location as if you were a first time guest. Ask yourself what makes the environment welcoming and what makes it a bit awkward. Enhance the welcoming elements and eliminate the awkward ones.
Sadly, some small-group leaders think, "If I build it, they will come." Nothing could be further from the truth. Filling out a form at church, meeting with a pastor or coach, and putting your group information on the church list is not a guarantee that people will come to your group. So how do you fill your group with people?