At The Simple Church, we have struggled knowing what to call our small-group volunteers so people understand what we’re asking of them. This semester we saw a slight decline in individuals volunteering to serve with small groups. I didn’t view this as a failure, but as an opportunity to reevaluate what we’re communicating to individuals about serving with small groups. As we evaluated the ministry, we found ourselves asking if we were clear on what we are asking people to do. Are we asking them to host or to lead? Often small-group ministries have made the terms hosting and leading synonymous. We at The Simple Church are no exception.
There is an important distinction, however, between these two verbs. As Webster’s dictionary clarifies, to host is to “give, provide, arrange, present, entertain, [and] welcome,” the responsibilities of which lie in providing a location and environment for a small group to meet. To lead, on the other hand, is defined as to “guide, conduct, influence, promote, [and] shepherd.” While not negating the necessity of the quality of hosting, leading entails much more responsibility. We often attempt to simplify the duties of our small-group volunteers, however, under the guise of hosting.
Leadership is a difficult word for people to digest. Due to the fallen world in which we live, people often believe the lie that they cannot be leaders. This may be because of their past, the fact that they aren’t Bible scholars, or feeling like they don’t understand their God-given worth. Whatever the case, it’s simply not true.
At The Simple Church, we come across this quite often. It’s difficult for many of our church members to envision themselves in any type of leadership role because they aren’t perfect. In fact, they’re all too aware of that as they battle life issues such as divorce, addiction, and health concerns. Even with these struggles, though, many believe they are equipped to create a relaxed and fun atmosphere, build relationships, and pop in a DVD or pull up a video on YouTube. In other words, they can see themselves as hosts, even if they can’t see themselves as leaders.
Hosting is no small task, and it’s incredibly important for small-group ministry. In order to build relationships and help people mature and grow in Christ, a safe, relaxed, and welcoming atmosphere must be provided. If this is what you ask of your volunteers, then calling them hosts is fitting, and you’re bound to get a lot more volunteers than if you ask for leaders.
At the Simple Church, we ask our volunteers to do more than host, so we have to consider a better title to communicate the added responsibilities while encouraging people to believe they can actually fulfill the role. Too many people believe leaders have to be perfect and have life all figured out. By changing the title of our small-group volunteers, we may make the position seem less threatening, but we also aren’t clear about what we expect. It isn’t our job to manipulate others into a leadership role, but to promote and teach leadership in a way that lets them know their lives and experiences can be used and are needed to reach others.
In her book, Less Clutter. Less Noise., Kem Meyer observes, “To communicate effectively with someone, you have to get at the psychographics—the attitudes, interests, lifestyles—to connect with the emotion in his or her world.” If you’d like to use the word “leader” for your volunteers, but are having trouble getting people to see they can be leaders, this is the place to begin. We can use Meyer’s four methods of effective communication so that potential volunteers’ attitudes, interests, and lifestyles are addressed: