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.
Communicate Along the Way
Don't keep apprenticing a secret. Talk about when you were apprenticed, share what's involved in apprenticing, and let the group know when you've found an apprentice. The more you talk about it, the less of a surprise it will be. Plus, it doesn't feel like you're doing something behind the group's back. And when you decide to birth, keep them in the loop along the way. Why is the leader ready? When will it happen? When will you celebrate together? How will it affect the current group? Answer the questions your group members are asking themselves.
What you celebrate shows what you value, so think about what you celebrate with your group. Get excited about your new apprentice, talk about exciting leadership developments in the church, and congratulate group members in their leadership at work and home. And be sure to throw a party when you birth the new group. You'll be able to commission the new leader and celebrate all that's happened in the group.
If you're not excited about apprenticing, no one else will be either. So go to God if you're not feeling it. Pray for vision and excitement. Additionally, commit to the process. If you truly value raising someone into leadership, don't take shortcuts. Your apprentice will feel cared for and will be fully trained. It also sends a message to your group members that apprenticing is important and you don't want to throw someone into leadership unprepared.
Think Outside the Box
Too often we do only what we've experienced (or what we've grown comfortable with), but there are many ways to birth a new group. If you're continually apprenticing new leaders, there's no need to split your group. Consider sending off new leaders to begin a new group to a demographic that they're passionate about. Help them see the specific needs in your church and investigate how they might meet them with their new group. Is there an abundance of newly married couples? Are there several unconnected people who can meet on the same night? Some of your current group members may want to join the new leader on this adventure as well. Another option is to allow the apprentice to remain with the current group while you go off to start a new group. Or perhaps you co-lead for a time until one of you is ready to move on. If group members react negatively to the thought of birthing, it may be to the specific method of birthing they've experienced. Think through a different method to use.
Keep Health Central
Above all, keep healthy groups as your focus. Healthy groups should be missionally minded with a focus on love, trust, and encouragement. They're a place where we live out the one another commands and are truly known by others. It's the perfect breeding ground for healthy leaders. But if things aren't healthy in the group, you will need to start there. Unhealthy groups won't produce healthy leaders, and they'll likely be hurt by a birthing experience. Know your group and work with your coach or small-group point person to build a healthy small group. If you have an apprentice, have him or her help you with the process. He or she will be a stronger leader for it.
—Amy Jackson has served as a small-group leader, coach, and director.