Instruction manuals are good things.
Whether you’re putting together a bicycle for a kid, installing a stove in a kitchen, or even putting together a 5,000 piece Lego set with your son, you’re going to be better off in the long run if you actually read the directions. Much repentance later can be avoided by reading the manual earlier.
But if you’re trying to lead a small group or helping others to do so, instruction manuals only get you so far. That’s because small groups are not “one size fits all.” Sure, it would be simpler if leading a group came with a simple checklist to complete, but the reason that doesn’t work is because small groups are not made up of Lego pieces. They’re made up of people. And each of those people in the group brings their own preferences, previous experiences, and personal expectations into that group environment.
If you’ve ever led more than one group, you can testify to the truth of that statement. As a leader, you’ll likely hear things like, “We didn’t do it this way in my last group,” or “We don’t seem as close as my other group was,” or “You don’t teach the way my last leader did.” If a group leader isn’t prepared for this reality, statements like that can cause them to wonder if they’re really doing anything valuable at all.
However, if leaders are set up from the beginning to know that the dynamics of a group are always going to be unique to that given group, they can not only withstand statements like that but can actually flourish inside an environment that ebbs and flows. How, then, can group leaders be equipped to embrace the reality that small groups are not one size fits all? Here are three ways:
1. Be a student of your group.
Every group needs a leader, someone designated to teach the class or guide the discussion. But part of being a leader is also being a student. From day one in that group, the leader must be committed to learning the dynamics that uniquely exist inside it.
- Is there someone prone to dominate the conversation every week?
- What kinds of questions work best?
- Are there particular life situations that are going to require more care from the group than others?
- Are there people who are likely to fade into the background if they’re not encouraged?
When the group leader intentionally becomes a student of their group, they can learn to adjust their approach to leadership based on the dynamics presented in that group.
2. Build margin into your agenda.
It is possible, for a group leader, to be so committed to their own agenda that they actually miss great opportunities for ministry right in front of them. Part of leading a group is preparing to lead the group, but in our preparation, we would be wise to not so overload our expectations for the group that there’s no room for the movement of the Holy Spirit. Why not instead, as a leader, assume that something will come up that is unforeseen? Why not assume there will be an opportunity to pause the presentation of content or the discussion and gather around a person and pray for a few minutes? When we pack out the group meeting agenda until it’s overflowing, we’ll always leave frustrated because we didn’t get to something. Meanwhile, our group members will leave not having had the chance to perhaps receive what they needed most.
3. Use a flexible tool for content.
One of the most important pieces of a small group is the content. What are you going to circle around? How is the Word of God going to be presented? If small groups are not one size fits all, then why not use a tool that allows for content to be adjusted according to the dynamics of an individual group?
At smallgroup.com, you can not only build Bible studies based on a text or topic, you can fully customize those studies to fit each individual group. In fact, at no extra cost, every leader of a group can change and customize their own group leader guide to further make it fit their group. You can actually try out smallgroup.com for free for two weeks right now; just head there and click “get started.”
People are not one size fits all. Therefore, small groups are not one size fits all. Instead of trying to jam a bunch of square pegs into round holes, why not accept the great variety that exists inside the family of God and celebrate the uniqueness of those groups?