Clearing the Way for Small Groups

Clearing the Way for Small Groups

How small groups became the central ministry at Zion Church
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I usually lead that group myself. It gives me an opportunity to get to know the people I’m leading, and also to guide them if they’re struggling with leading their session or interacting with each other in that environment.

All of our current leaders are grandfathered in, which means we only require them to do the first seven sessions together. We want to make sure they’re focusing on what small groups should be about: making relentless followers of Christ and making disciples who go and make disciples. That has really worked for us.

We got a little pushback from our existing leaders. We gave them two years to get into a circle and take this training, and we actually told them if you don’t do this, you won’t be leading. This is a requirement for all leaders. Those who are new to leadership didn’t have any qualms—they just took it as the pathway to leadership.

Now people are really engaging, and we get people who are not in small-group ministry asking, “Can I be a part of that group?” That’s a huge win for us.

Has this training method impacted the number of new leaders you’re seeing?

Terri: As a matter of fact, we’ve seen an increase in both leaders and apprentices.

Claire: We talk about it in the apprentice orientation, and I let them know that we want to set them up for success. We want them to be empowered. We’re going to talk about pragmatics to death, but more important than that, we want them to focus on how to be a disciple and how to make disciples. What I’ve found is that people are really excited about that because they know they are leading from a position of empowerment, being informed, not just as a leader but on an individual level as well.

Claire: Some folks exclude themselves if they feel like it’s going to be too much, but the exclusion is on the front end instead of being in a group and deciding all of a sudden, “I don’t want to lead anymore.”

One of the people that went through the training told me, “I feel like I need more time just to understand how this works and the responsibility of leadership.” I would rather people say that at this juncture than start a group, have people who are committed and coming, and then all of a sudden decide this is just not for them.

How do you launch new groups?

Terri: We birth some new groups out of existing groups, but we primarily do it through events. We’ve found Grouplink works well for connecting women to small groups, and for men we put together men’s events and form groups there. Of course, we advertise our small groups online, so folks can get connected that way as well. And we periodically do small-group campaigns where we have six- to eight-week long groups led by hosts.

What’s the number one thing you’d tell other small-group ministry leaders?

Nadine: Coaching, coaching, coaching. We focus so much on getting leaders, and then we can’t keep up with them.

Terri: The coaching part is key because you as the director won’t have the capacity to check in with everyone, and some leaders are hard to connect with. It works well if you allow their coaches to reach out to them and communicate important information. Our leaders respond better to personal communication from their coach than they do to generic communication from our team.

—Will Johnston is an editorial advisor for and the former Small Group Catalyst for National Community Church in Washington, D.C.

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