I know this shouldn't need to be said, but if I had a nickel for every off-kilter amateur theologian who signed up to lead a group I'd have a lot of nickels. Save yourself the heartache and confirm that potential group leaders are aligned with your doctrinal priorities.
How to Recruit
Building a powerful small-group ministry takes intentionality. Passivity won't lead to a leadership boom. Here are several simple things that can help you identify leaders:
Beat the bushes and ask everyone you know and trust who they think would make a great small-group leader. Poll church leaders, send out e-mails, and talk to every person you know. Know the three of four characteristics you're looking for in a leader so you can quickly explain the kinds of people you're looking for. Then ask who they know that fulfills those requirements.
Whenever possible, encourage group leaders to have an apprentice—a leader in training. Then, when you need new leaders, you'll have a team of apprentices to recruit from.
Regularly conduct small-group leader training events and publicize them for existing and future leaders. Every time I've conducted open training, new leaders show up.
Try Before You Buy
One of the best ways to recruit new leaders is to ask them to lead a six- to eight-week group. The short-term group gives a potential leader an opportunity to try on leadership while church leadership gets to try on the group leader to confirm a good fit.
Never Say No for Someone
We all know people who should lead, but we frequently talk ourselves out of asking them to lead. Maybe we think they're too busy or they won't be interested. Whatever the reason, we never ask and we answer for them. But many future leaders are just waiting to be asked. Don't talk yourself out of approaching someone you know could be a great leader.
How to Engage
Once you find leaders and equip them, how do you put them in just the right place? Most of the churches I've worked with have a variety of groups. From traditional, in-home groups to classes to service groups, there's a lot of variety, which means there's a need for different types of leaders.
Here are a few different types of groups and the kinds of leaders who fit best:
I believe most new groups should start as short-term groups. It's the lowest risk to the leader, the group, and you as the church leader. If something goes wrong, hey, it was only for a few weeks! So new, untested leaders, as well as leaders you aren't sure about, are great in short-term groups. You can keep an eye on the leader and the group, and then determine next steps. Short-term groups are also ideal for the ultra-busy leader who might coach soccer in the fall but is available for a winter term.
Got a knowledgeable leader who has much wisdom to share? Have him or her serve as a living resource and teach a group. Not every group wants a teacher-leader, but don't assume no groups want that. Particularly in subject-specific areas, it's helpful to have a teacher lead a group.
We live in a relationally deprived culture full of broken relationships. Sometimes the best thing a group offers is a place to connect and recharge. If you have warm, loving, involver leaders, have them lead groups that are more social in nature.
While there is more that could be said, these strategies will move a group ministry further along the leadership identification and implementation continuum. By following these tips, you can better identify, recruit, and place a variety of leaders in your ministry.
—Bill Search is author of Simple Small Groups and the Senior Pastor at Rolling Hills Christian church in El Dorado Hills, California; copyright 2014 by Christianity Today.