With the vision cast and expectations set, Part Two of the training takes off for eight weeks. The leaders become their own Life Group for those eight weeks, picking up their study of Acts where they left off in Part One. We also take time each week to discuss specific training topics. This format allows the leaders to learn in two key ways. First, they learn by being a real Life Group—complete with discussion, prayer, and even snacks. This helps them understand what Life Groups are all about by experiencing it firsthand. Second, they practice important leadership techniques. This especially happens beginning in week five when the leaders take turns creating the questions, leading the group, and receiving peer feedback. This allows the potential leaders to apply new leadership skills in a safe environment.
Over the eight weeks, we cover a variety of topics including basic inductive Bible study, how to create questions, stages of group life, cultivation of group prayer, service opportunities, and more. We also provide three resources to help leaders facilitate their future small-group discussions: IVP New Testament Bible Background Commentary, New Testament Lesson Maker, and Serendipity Bible. Once the training is complete, the new leaders are encouraged to return to their existing groups and co-lead for a little while prior to starting their own group. In some cases, though, leaders will launch a new group right away.
There is no question that this method of training raises the bar and expectations placed on the leaders, but the impact on the group is much higher as well. With our new model, groups are experiencing an increase in Bible engagement. Because leaders study the passage and prepare questions ahead of time, they are equipped to keep the discussion aligned with God's truth.
And although leaders study the passage ahead of time, the goal of the small-group meeting is not for the leader to share what he or she learned. Instead, leaders are trained to use their study of the passage to help the group walk through and uncover God's truth for themselves. Whether someone is still searching for Jesus, brand new to his or her faith, or a graduate from seminary, everyone feels welcome to participate in the discussion.
Because everyone is invited to study the Word through the discussion, group members are not only bringing their Bibles, but also underlining key passages and writing notes in the margins.
Now that leaders are more familiar with the Bible themselves, they can help group members navigate the Bible by helping them find a book in the Bible, noting how a passage correlates to other stories in the Bible, and even encouraging people to use the tools in their Bibles.
Introducing a new model always brings some push back. I'm often asked how our model is working, and I've found there are two misconceptions that I regularly have to clear up.
The most common misconception I run across is the idea that requiring leaders to complete a training program raises the bar too high and discourages potential leaders. In actuality, we've found that leaders appreciate the training. Based on our anonymous feedback from the leaders who completed the training, all of them said the content and length were appropriate. In fact, some actually said they would have liked for the training to be longer.