This article is excerpted from Birthing Groups Well.
I love reading about Paul. He was a man who loved Jesus and was on a mission to help others draw near to him as well. And he had a huge impact on the early church, but Paul couldn't do it all. Instead, we read about Paul going to a city, starting a church there, identifying new leaders, and apprenticing them into their new roles. And after they're set up, Paul goes on to another city. He realized that it was only by empowering others, apprenticing them into leadership roles, that he'd have a lasting impact in those cities.
As small-group leaders, we have the incredible opportunity to identify and apprentice people into leadership as well. When I think about birthing groups, I see it as an opportunity to intentionally invest in potential leaders. And that's exciting! It's exciting to help others realize their passions, gifts, and talents and how they can use them to benefit others. Who wouldn't want to get behind that?
I can still remember apprenticing Ashley as I was graduating from college. When she joined my small group, she would smile and offer to bring snacks, but she was nervous to share her story. I saw something in her—an exciting blend of humility and care and intentionality—that prompted me to begin apprenticing her. As we met, I learned so much about her and was able to encourage her gifts and her sharing. When I left at the end of the semester, Ashley was confident, bubbly, and full of encouragement for those around her. And she made a great small-group leader. Years later I was privileged to meet some women that she had apprenticed into small-group leadership. Imagine if I had not helped Ashley see her potential. She might still be a shy woman sitting in a small group, nervous to share anything.
Step back from the motivation of numbers and think about how small groups can have an important role in calling people out and developing them as leaders. Who wouldn't want to get behind that? When you cast this vision for birthing, your group members will want to be involved, knowing they have a role in developing new leaders. Here are a few tips to ensure your group gets the right message about birthing.
Make it a rule of thumb that you will have an apprentice at all times. If you are always investing in a new leader, you'll always have the ability to start a new group—regardless of the size of your own. Hopefully, size will never become an issue if you're always developing new leaders. Plus, group members will no longer see apprentices as a warning of imminent division. And you won't have to rush the apprentice through the process in order to split the group before it's too large.
Never Set a Number
Don't decide that at a certain number of members your group must birth. Base birthing on the readiness of the apprentice leader, not on what you feel the group needs. Trust that God will provide a leader when one is needed. In the meantime, get creative with sub-grouping to help group members feel cared for.
Talk About Calling
Infuse the language of calling into your group's vocabulary. Encourage group members in their gifts and talents. Point out where people seem to be serving in their "sweet spot"—whether or not it's in the group setting. Help to call out in people the mission that God has on their life. When this becomes your natural language, your group members will help you call out potential apprentices by the things they call out in each other.