Information, Imagination, Inspiration

Information, Imagination, Inspiration

Indispensable elements for training small-group leaders

Note: This article is excerpted from Creative Leader Training.

It seems like every time I ask someone to be a small-group leader I hear the same question: What kind of training will I get? They want to know they'll be given the tools they need to succeed. But training is tricky—even if you can lead a group as naturally as you brush your teeth, training others takes a different skill set.

I realized early on that I didn't really have that skill set. I could teach, communicate, and craft master strategies for changing the world through small-group ministry, but I knew nothing about training people. My initial approach was to mimic the way I had always been trained: classroom-based lecturing, PowerPoint presentation included. The deficiencies of my approach were soon evident and I started to incorporate other training models.

I tried turbo groups, one-on-one coaching, manuals, holding monthly training dinners, observing of leaders in group meetings, and apprenticing. I've learned that regardless of the training approach, there are three indispensable elements for training small-group leaders: information, imagination, and inspiration. My natural tendency early in my training experiences was to focus solely on information. If I could just get the right information to my leaders-in-training, they would be fully equipped to change the world through their small group. I have since learned two things: (1) my information—no matter how good—doesn't stick unless I help leaders imagine what it looks like to actually use the information, and (2) imagination and information require inspiration before they translate into action.

Information Enables Understanding

I learned the hard way that information is not the only element required to train small-group leaders. That does not mean, however, that information is unnecessary. In fact, we need to learn how to communicate information clearly and involve the trainees in the process.

Communicating Information Well
If information isn't communicated well, it will not be received well. This is a simple truth with significant implications for training. You can glean information from all the experts, from powerful stories of real experiences, and from the truth of Scripture, but it will be useless to your leaders if you don't communicate the information well.

My own advice for communicating important information to your leaders is this: be simple, creative, and repetitive. Select just a few key points, even if there is a lot of other supporting material. Then find creative ways to share those points such as handouts, videos, PowerPoint, case studies, activities, and discussion questions. If you find yourself talking most of the time, mix in other learning activities. And when you do, repeat, repeat, repeat your key points. If you want your communication to be clear, repeat it as much as possible. You don't have to say it exactly the same way each time, but you do have to say it a lot.

Drawing Out Information Well
Too often we communicate information at training events through one-way communication: we talk, everyone else passively listens. There are situations when one-way communication is the only or best option, but greater learning happens when a trainer involves the trainees. I like to think of this as drawing out information from the leaders—information they may not recognize they have.

Two practices help to drawing out information from those you wish to train: asking good questions and facilitating (or steering) the conversation toward clear conclusions. For instance, if you are training your small-group leaders on ways of creating community within a group, you can ask, "In your experience, what helps people connect in small groups? What makes them feel disconnected?" As the leaders answer your question, repeat back to them what they are saying so that they know you heard them. After several answers have been given, summarize what you are hearing and ask the group if the conclusions you have identified accurately reflect their thoughts on the matter. If necessary, you can then supplement their conclusions with other conclusions you feel are important to stress. For instance, they may have come up with social events and weekly e-mails but missed the role social media can play.

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