Many of us who look for small-group leaders can echo the words of the Apostle Paul referring to contentment: I know how to live in abundance and how to live in suffering need. Of course, anyone who leads a small-group ministry knows more about need than abundance.
Leadership is both the growth engine and the speed bump to a thriving small-group ministry. Every successful small-group ministry rises and falls on the quality of the small-group leaders. No matter what model you choose, the consistency of the ministry is deeply dependent on who calls the meeting to order and how they lead.
How do you identify leaders, and how do you engage them in just the right spot? It's important to tackle four questions in identifying, recruiting, and engaging leaders:
- What to look for
- What to avoid
- How to recruit
- How to engage
What to Look For
I'm in my second decade of championing small groups and I boil it down to just a few characteristics that grab my attention. My radar is always scanning for these qualities:
Real, genuine, faithful people are essential. Any sense of duplicity or untrustworthiness will crash a group. As the expression goes, "Speed of the leader, speed of the team," so the authenticity of the leader is the high water mark for the authenticity of the group. Look for real, honest people. The no-drama, no-nonsense people will strike the right tone.
A potential leader has to have enough margin in life to lead a group. They have to participate fully in the group they lead. They have to have time to attend essential training and leader events. This doesn't mean you look for people who aren't involved or are sitting on the bench. It simply means you look for people who have enough space—or are able to create enough space—in their life to dedicate themselves to leading.
Look for active people who have a lot going on. There's an old adage: if you want something done give it to a busy person. Simply put, people who have a lot going on often have figured out systems of productivity. Avoid frantic, hurried people but keep your eye out for people who keep showing up, sleeves rolled up, ready to serve.
When you talk with potential leaders do they seem hungry for more? Are they willing to listen and learn? Leading a group is a journey of personal growth, which means anyone who isn't coachable isn't going to make it. Know-it-alls are difficult to lead and make even worse leaders, so keep the antennae up for people who want to grow.
Who shows an interest in other people? Who is ready with a handshake and a smile? You don't have to grab every extrovert you see. In fact, many introverts make excellent group leaders. Listen and watch for the people who include and involve others.
What to Avoid
Not every leader is a small-group leader. Some people are great leaders in one setting but lousy at leading a gathering in a living room. Here are the felonious types to avoid:
Hobby Horse People
We all know them—and we still love them. But these one-trick-pony people just can't get off their favorite topic. Whether it's the impending end times, creation debates, politics, or just their overwhelming hobby, folks that are preoccupied with a topic or issue are best left to group participation. Otherwise they will swamp the group.
There's just no nice way to put this, but while really strange people are certainly welcome in (most) groups, they probably won't be able to lead a group effectively. There are exceptions, but most of the time you can't gel a group around eccentric and strange people. We're all a little weird, but there is a cliff that professional weirdoes jumped off years ago that moves them too far into the continuum of oddness.