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Leading Small Groups Author Q&A

Andy Whisenant | May 22nd

What prompted you to write this book? Who did you write it for?

The thought of leading a small group can be extremely daunting. There are a myriad of details to think through, and most of us do not believe that we are even qualified to lead people. I wanted to write something that a potential group leader could use a step-by-step manual for gathering, launching, leading and eventually, multiplying their small group.

This book is written for the individual small group leader, but it also as a training tool for the small groups point person at a church. They can purchase one for every leader, and if they desire, develop training to go along with each section of the book. There are also questions at the end of each chapter that can serve as homework for the leader as they prepare for their small group.

Why are small groups such an essential part of the Christian life?

We can see the first example of discipling through a small group from Jesus. He gathered 12 men who would first be discipled by the master and then sent out to disciple others. It is then further modeled for us by the early church in Acts 42. They gathered in the temple courts for worship and teaching but then met house-to-house in small groups. This method of discipleship is now carried on by small groups meeting in homes, clubhouses, coffeehouses and classrooms around the world.

It is clear from scripture that we are not meant to walk this life alone. Gathering a small group of believers brings accountability, friendship, support and spiritual growth that we cannot get anywhere else.

What is the purpose of small groups?

The overarching goal of every small group should be to make disciples. After all, that is what Jesus commanded us to do in the Great Commission in Matthew 25. If the group is built on anything else, it will eventually fail. Friendships and community are important, but they cannot sustain the life of a group on their own.

A group that is focused on carrying out the Great Commission will also produce future leaders and missionaries for the local church. I don’t know a better leadership development process than discipling people in a small group environment. Groups provide a natural pathway of spiritual and leadership growth.

One element from his book is left out of lots of small group philosophies: how to multiply. Why is multiplication a key ingredient to a healthy small group?

Second Timothy 2:2 lays out the framework for creating generations of disciples: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

If you look at this passage closely, you see four generations of disciples represented. Paul is the first generation. He invested in the life of Timothy—that’s generation two. Then Timothy was to commit what he learned from Paul to faithful men—that’s our third generation. And the faithful men are meant to teach others also—generation number four.

The only way that we are going to create generations of disciples is by multiplying small groups. A group that stays together too long before multiplying can become inward focused. Healthy things grow and eventually multiply.

Two of the common problems small groups face are cohesion and consistency. Either they just don’t click, or people don’t attend consistently. What can small group leaders do in the face of those two problems?

It’s important that small groups are launched well with the right expectations. A lot of small groups have difficulty getting traction because the expectations for members are not clear from the beginning, or there is a lack of consistency with the frequency of group meetings.

Set expectations by answering these questions to establish a clear vision statement for the group from the beginning: Why does this small group exist? Why would someone commit time that they may not have each week to attending the group? Then after the group has started, the meetings have to be consistent and the details communicated clearly. People will stop showing up if the group meetings keep changing.

What are common mistakes of small group leaders?

One common mistake is giving up too early. Getting people to commit to attending a weekly small group is not easy. It will take a lot more invites than the desired number of people to fill a group. Always plan to invite more people than your home or classroom can handle. Not everyone will show up, and that’s okay.

Another common mistake is doing too much of the talking during a group discussion. Our job is not to teach the group; our job is to facilitate a discussion with the Bible at the center. I always shoot for talking only around 30 percent of the time. That gives space for everyone in the group to participate.

Do you have any amusing stories of small groups that have gone wrong?

One of our coaches once visited a small group that was trying to think outside the box for their discussion. Their study for the semester was finding God in the movie, “The Matrix.” After the normal small talk around snacks in the kitchen, the group gathered in the living room, where the leader took the first 20 minutes to actually act out one of the scenes from the movie, which included him playing every character and recreating all of the sound effects. The coach reported back that the two other people in the group seemed frightened by the whole spectacle. That may not have been the best approach, but at least he was trying!

What do you hope readers get out of the book?

I hope that leaders and potential leaders are encouraged and better equipped to create disciples after reading the book. Leading a small group can feel intimidating and lonely at times, and it’s always helpful to know all of us have had those same feelings of doubt. God has prepared you for this moment of leadership. If you put your trust in his power and don’t give up too soon, your small group will change the world.