If you are reading this, you have come to terms with the difficulty that exists in finding new small-group leaders. We start with great hope and expectations, but find struggles and disappointments in response. As ministry point people, we must recognize the reality of our situation and engage in a proactive recruitment model bathed in prayer.
It Starts With Prayer
As we see the need for more workers our response should be to go to God in prayer. Unfortunately, sometimes the most obvious response to a situation is the most overlooked at times. We tell people to pray in a weekend service, in groups, at home, with family and friends, but when it comes to finding potential leaders, how faithful are we in our prayers?
A few years ago I was speaking with a friend and he shared with me how he has prayed over Matthew 9:35-38 when looking for leaders. As Jesus was traveling from town to town he saw disease, sickness, people harassed, and people helpless. It was through his compassion for the people that he told the disciples to ask the Lord to send workers because the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few.
Matthew 9:35-38 is an excellent passage to pray over as ministry leaders. Begin praying for God to move your heart towards compassion for people and to align your motivations with His. Why are we looking for workers? Is it to complete a chart in Excel showing the percentage of people in groups? Or is it because we have seen the brokenness of the world we live in and believe that a healthy small group is an excellent place for someone to find Christ’s healing?
As you reflect on the brokenness around you, ask the Lord to raise up leaders (workers) to help with the needs of the people (harvest).
When we see the value and opportunity that healthy groups bring, it will impact how we seek out and recruit potential leaders.
Ask For Help
When faced with recruiting new leaders, it can be tempting to do it alone. Instead, lean into your current group leaders and invite them into this journey. Explain to them why you are looking for potential leaders and how you are praying for God to deliver. Ask them to join you in this practice as co-workers in Christ empowering them to take ownership in growing the ministry. Also, I recommend asking staff and elders to join in on this direction, but know that the people currently serving in the ministry are typically the ones who will be more passionate about the outcome.
Know What Makes a Good Leader
When we begin scanning and recruiting for potential leaders, it is important for us to define who we are looking for. If we do not define our goal, we struggle with who to specifically ask. The book Small Groups, Big Impact has helped me reimagine who our next leaders will be. In it, Jim Egli and Dwight Marable challenge many of our presuppositions on who makes a good group leader. When I begin looking for potential leaders I refer to the list in Jim and Dwight’s book, and seek out these 3 attributes:
- Love for Jesus: someone who loves Jesus and strives to be like Jesus
I’m not looking for someone who can share trivia and facts about Jesus, I’m looking for a leader who exhibits Jesus in their life.
- Learners: someone who is willing to learn new ideas and methods
A good leader knows they have much to learn regardless of their degree, church “seniority”, or position (and that includes me too).
- Reliable: someone who follows through with what they say they will do
A good leader is one who others can consistently count on.
Know Where to Look
Sometimes we know what type of leader we are looking for, but finding them is a different story. Here are a few suggestions on where to look:
- First, look at where you see people gathering for classes or events already occurring in your church. Even if you are not the one leading the class, stop by and sit in. This gives you an opportunity to meet the people in the class and begin building a relationship. This has been one of the most successful opportunities to recruit both group leaders and group members in our church.
- If you have mentoring or accountability groups meeting, the members of those groups are prime candidates to begin conversations about group leadership. These members have shown a commitment to grow in their faith within the group and potential leadership would be a natural next step.
- Look in your small groups. When someone experiences spiritual growth in a small group, they are much more likely to say “yes” to leading because they have personally seen the value. Encourage your current group leaders to bring up the idea of leadership with members who they see as potential leaders.
A Little Encouragement
I have asked many people to join our leader training group who in turn said “no”. It can be discouraging at times, but it is important to remember and reflect on the ones who do say “yes”. Here are a couple encouragements to help you through the “no’s”:
- Don’t take it personally. When someone says “no” it may have nothing to do with you or the ministry. There may be other unseen factors at play that are preventing he or she from saying “yes”.
- Expect them to be busy. The word “busy” has become a standard response in our culture. “How are you doing?” “What’s going on this weekend?” “I haven’t seen you at church for several weeks, is everything ok?” Many times the answer we hear to those questions is “I’m busy”, or some variant. It may require you asking some follow-up questions or explaining the expectations to move past this saying. However, be prepared that many in our culture today have overcommitted in multiple areas of life.
- Let them say “no”. When you think of someone you would like to ask to become a leader, be sure to ask and not assume. For example: one of our current group leaders was getting burned out, but was unwilling to step down from leading (a topic for a different article). I asked him who in his group would be willing to step into leadership. He explained that his members would be unwilling to lead, even though he never asked. One day when I saw one of the couples from the group I asked if they would be interested in leading the group one day. They replied with a smile and said, “I knew you were eventually going to ask us, and yes, we would. We led a group at are former church before we moved here.” They are set to join our training group next round.
- Don’t give up. Through prayer, if God has set someone on your heart but they have said “no”… don’t give up. This may be a difficult or challenging season in their life and adding a group leadership role may be too taxing. When it’s clear that someone is able to lead a group right now, I let them know I understand and that I’ll keep them in the loop for upcoming trainings.
Leadership recruitment can be exhausting and discouraging, but the value of pursuing people to take their next step in their journey is immeasurable. I can only image how Jesus felt when looking at all the brokenness when he travelled from town to town. I’m sure there were times of feeling exhaustion and discouragement, but he didn’t give up. The people in our church and community need healthy groups to help them on their spiritual journey. Keep pushing forward, investing in your leaders, and asking God to send the workers.
—Brad Himes is the Involvement Director at Broadway Christian Church in Mattoon, Illinois.