By Cheri Liefeld
As small group ministry leaders, we face one ongoing challenge: identifying and empowering the next group leader. Our work is to equip leaders who will equip other leaders. The Bible gives us many examples of leaders investing in others. Moses empowered Joshua to lead the Israelites into the promised land, and Jesus trained and empowered His disciples to lead His church after His ascension.
Paul cast the vision in 2 Timothy 2:2, where he wrote, “You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others” (NLT).
We want leaders with the passion and vision to equip others to become leaders. In small group orientation, reproducing leaders is one of the core principles we teach. Raising up new leaders will maximize our impact.
One of the best examples I have seen intentionally pursue this has been a group of young adult men. They started with one group, with the leader recruiting a co-leader. They identified two more young men launching a second group. A total of five Warriors of God groups launched in the last two years. One group has been led strategically by an 18-year-old with plans to teach and continue these groups. When another one of the leaders aged out, he launched a group for men in their 30s.
Each of us can do the same, equipping new leaders by following a simple path: Involve, Identify, Invite, and Invest.
Involve group members and encourage other leaders to do the same. The first step is to create opportunities for your group members to step up and play a part in leading the small group. When launching a new group, offer up various roles for people to play a part in the group. This creates a sense of ownership for the group while allowing you to see leadership potential.
Yes, it is more comfortable in the short term to do everything ourselves, but that doesn’t help us reach our goals to reproduce and equip leaders. Opportunities to involve others include asking someone to lead the discussion one evening, write up and email weekly prayer requests, or organize the group service project.
The next step is to Identify potential leaders. Paul told Timothy to invest in reliable people (2 Timothy 2:2). Look for several potential leaders. Reliability is a basic trait, but essential. Who is consistent and does what they say they will?
I have found two types of potential leaders. The first are natural-born leaders. They come from another church, are former youth group leaders, or leaders in their work field. They look for opportunities, sign up and start serving.
The other kind of potential leader is harder to spot at first but often turns out to be the best small group leader. They don’t think of themselves as leaders, yet they are quietly shepherding people along.
Pray and ask for God’s wisdom and guidance as you spend time thinking about potential leaders. Jesus was intentional in who He invested in. Create a list of why you feel they would make a great group leader. We give some basic guidelines for our leaders to consider in our orientation.
- Do they love Jesus?
- Do they have decent social skills?
- Are they engaged and committed?
When I led a small group and felt called to replace myself, I told one woman I believed she would make a great leader. When we met, I shared what I saw in her—the extra time she invested in our small group members, how she took the lead in praying, and the initiative to plan social gatherings. She had the heart to help people take their next steps. In the end, she looked at me and firmly said, “No, I am not a leader.”
One of the best parts of leading groups is seeing how God works. I invited several potential leaders to join our first five-week Small Group Leader Prep group and included the woman from my group. She emailed back, replying no. The day before the group started, she called me and said, “I’m not a leader, but God told me I should attend, so I will.” The magic happened when other group members cheered her on and told her of the potential they saw in her. She has been leading a small group ever since.
The best way to identify and empower future leaders is to speak life into people and watch how God waters those words. The outcome is out of our hands, but we need to be courageous and pursue potential leaders on an ongoing basis.
Once you have identified your potential leaders, invite them to join you. Invite them to coffee or to meet individually prior to your group meeting. Be specific; tell them why you are inviting them to be a leader. Here are a few ways to share:
- I love how you….
- I appreciate how you..
- I see you doing…
- Your heart for _____ is evident when you….
Once they say “Yes” or “Maybe,” continue to Invest in them. Investing in our leaders is a journey, and each one will go at different speeds. Build a relationship and continue to invite them to take their next leadership steps. Ask them to co-lead your group allowing you to serve together and debrief each week.
Empower them by letting them take the lead and spend time providing feedback after. Ensure the training, encouragement, and support needed for them to grow as a leader. Listen and affirm where you see God working. Check in and see how things are going. We ask our coaches to check in monthly on their small group leaders.
A big part of investing in our leaders is to equip them. Invite them to your leadership events. Ask them to attend your orientation and start the process of becoming a small group leader. During your one-on-ones, challenge them to consider what steps God is calling them to take.
Who is God calling you to invest in? How can you build a path to maximize your impact and empower new leaders?
Cheri Liefeld is the Director of Small Groups at Eastside Community Church in Anaheim, California. She was previously Director of Women’s Ministry at Mariners Church. She is a writer and loves to gather people around the table. You can read more at adventuresinthekitchen.com.