How do you judge the health and effectiveness of your small group? Do you judge by size, assuming that if the teaching and community in a small group are strong, then people will flock to it? Or perhaps you judge your small groups by their longevity, assuming that if a small group is healthy, people will commit to it long term. While these may seem like perfectly reasonable rubrics, neither really gets to the heart of the church’s mission. It is quite possible to attract large numbers of people to a meeting and even keep their attention while failing to equip them for mission. The Pharisees, after all, were the most committed participants in Judaism and, in terms of influence, were quite effective at amassing a following. And yet Jesus said of them, “their heart is far from [God]” (Mark 7:6).
If the mission of the church is to make disciples, then a better rubric for growth than numbers or longevity is multiplication. If you hope to focus your small group on Christ’s mission of making disciples (Matt. 28:18-20), you need to recognize the people in your group God is raising up to start groups of their own. How do you identify, however, those whom God is raising up within your group? Here are three ways to identify the leaders in your group:
1. Look for those who are already leading.
The simplest way to start when looking for potential new leaders is to identify those who are already leading. Paul told Timothy, “If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work” (1 Tim. 3:1). While Paul may have been referring primarily to those the church formally recognizes as pastors, the principle applies to those who would lead new small groups: they should want to lead and shepherd others. The best way to identify those who are fit to lead and shepherd others is by taking note of those who are already doing so. Who in your group is meeting with others outside of your normal meeting time to pray and talk about following Christ? Who in your group readily volunteers when you need someone to teach for you? Who in your group handles God’s Word faithfully and regularly looks for opportunities to encourage others with God’s Word? Who in your group do the other group members look to for insight on God’s Word and wisdom in applying it to their lives? These people are prime candidates for leadership because they are already leading.
2. Identify leaders by sharing the work of shepherding your group.
There are others in your group whose leadership potential won’t be obvious until you challenge them to lead. Paul also told Timothy to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:1-2). In other words, Paul was challenging Timothy to constantly seek to share the work of ministry with others. If you are curious as to the leadership potential of someone in your group, start by asking them to pray. Then ask them to share their testimony one week. Then ask them to teach your small group study for the week. Don’t look for polished teachers as much as you look for those who enjoy teaching and are teachable. As you share the work of shepherding your group, be prepared to offer constructive feedback. God calls leaders to commit to the process of raising up and training new leaders in the work of ministry.
3. Look for those who think little of themselves and much of Christ.
Look for those who, like John the Baptist, realize that they must decrease so that Christ might increase (John 3:30). Look for those who rarely hold themselves up as examples for others to follow. Instead, look for those who are looked to by others as an example of what it means to follow Christ. Look for those who patiently encourage others in their pursuit of Christ. Peter challenged the leaders of the churches of Asia Minor to refuse to “lord” their leadership over others but rather to strive to be “examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3).
If you hope to see your small group actively contribute to the mission of the church, your goal must not be to be the biggest or even the best small group. Your goal should be simple: be faithful. Be faithful not only to teach God’s Word and shepherd God’s people, but also be faithful to identify and invest in others so that the fruit of your group’s ministry might multiply in your church, your city, and to the ends of the earth.
Drew Dixon is Discipleship Strategist for Lifeway Christian Resources and the Editor-in-Chief of GameChurch.com. He also writes for WORLD Magazine, Paste Magazine, Christ and Pop Culture, and Think Christian. Follow him on Twitter: @drewdixon82.