10 steps for launching and leading great groups


They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Acts 2: 42-417
Faith is formed in community
Faith is formed, by the power of the Holy Spirit, through personal, trusted relationships. It's a lifelong process of learning to live and love like Jesus that's practiced everyday, everywhere, through a web of support that includes family members, friends, neighbors, and faith mentors.  People often experience faith a web of Christian support through small group settings where God is the subject of their conversations, and where faith is modeled through a variety of spiritual practices.  John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, taught that there are certain practices in which disciples can engage in that usher them into God's grace. Wesley described these spiritual practices as "outward signs of an inward and invisible grace." These practices focused on worship, devotion, compassion, and justice and have been practiced by people of faith for numerous generations.  Small groups are a powerful vehicle for transformation, and are strategically used in many Methodist congregations Vibrant Faith works with.

Modeling the life of Jesus, faith is meant to be lived in community with other believers and reflects a life that's focused on connecting with God, connecting with each other, and connecting with the people in our communities.  We believe that faith is formed, through the power of the Holy Spirit, through personal, trusted relationships, at and beyond the home. Wesley's model of discipleship focused on creating communities that were relational, intentional and accountable. Individuals who comprised these communities were invited to be authentic, affirming, and available to one another.

Why are small groups important?
Many denominations emphasize the value of having small groups or "being a church of small groups." Note the emphasis of the latter. Methodist churches are known for organizing their discipleship ministries around small group settings and provide a plethora of resources for small groups.  Small groups are not the only way to get people connected relationally, but it is one of the easiest and most effective approaches. Within the context of small groups,  people are intentionally trained in the areas of discipleship  such as spiritual practices, worship, hospitality, service, and giving financially). It is also the small group that provides the most common forms of intentionality and accountability.

Create better systems for supporting small group ministry
Use the information on this page to help you develop a small groups system that both you and your people can be excited about, and that can help you realize God’s dream for your unique church.  Take time to read and digest the information below. Note key insights and write down your questions.  Invite others to read and watch the information on this page. Discuss the content with others and discern what to embrace and what to discard as you think about your own ministry setting. Be open to new ideas and open to where God might be leading you as you use small groups to build friendship, grow faith, and bless others.  
Ways that small groups support the ministries of the church
When a church has 50% or more ofcthe congregation involved in some type of small group, it is almost a guarantee that the church will experience growth in worship and membership. In addition, small groups:
  • Help grow a culture of discipleship, where people are equipped to live like Jesus, often happens in the ministry of small groups.
  • Maturing disciples attract those who not yet disciples because of the lives that they live. Small groups are a form of invitation to those outside the church to experience the love of Jesus demonstrated by the followers of Jesus.
  • Pastoral care needs are best met by the people closest to the person in need. These people are often members of the same small group.
  • The visibility of the church serving the needs of the community is greatly enhanced by an effective small group ministry, since small groups ideally serve together to meet needs in the community.
  • The level of prayer experienced in the local congregation is greatly enhanced as small group gatherings pray for one another and the needs of the congregation and community.
  • Member follow-up is best accomplished when members of a small group miss one of their own in worship and call to check on them.
  • Worship participation levels are usually stronger as small groups encourage one another and check up on one another.
  • Why is such community so important in helping people grow spiritually?
  • In what ways do you hope that small groups will help people be more intentional about their callings in life?
  • How might small groups help people take their next step toward spiritual maturity?
  • How could small groups help members care for one another?
  • How might small groups help people discern their gifts and callings?
  • How might small groups increase the base of ministry leaders in your setting?
  • Who needs to be part of ongoing conversations related to small group ministry? 
  • Who will invite them to be conversation partners?


Most congregations define define small groups a groups of people who gather consistently for a specific reason, for a set period of time, and are comprised of 4-12 people.  Groups that become larger than 10-12,  usually create smaller sub-groupings for deeper conversation. The primary purposes for gathering in small groups was to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25 and 1 Thessalonians 4:18), love each other like brothers and sisters (Romans 12:10),  help each other obey the law of Christ (Galations 6:2), pray for each other (James 5:16),  serve each other (Galations 5:13), and forgive each other (Colossians 3:13 ).

What kinds of small groups are there?
Small groups usually include time and space for building deeper friendships, praying for each other,  and the learning, serving or socializing  together.  They may meet at church, in people's homes, at a local coffee shop or restaurant, or at the site of a servant event.  Small groups vary in size, in their primary purpose, and  overall form determined by the function they are performing. Examples include:

1 | Accountability Groups: Churches often call these discipleship groups or Wesleyan groups. They focus less on a training component in the form of a teaching time and more on equipping and encouraging accomplished through a mutually agreed upon covenant which may include spiritual practices, worship, service, giving and discerning calls. They are usually longer-term relationships that allow adequate time to build trusting relationships.

2 | Affinity Groups: These are groups that meet based upon some area of common interest.
 Common affinity group include:
  •  Adventure Groups (bouldering, hiking, birding).
  • Bible Study Groups (book of the Bible, spiritual practices, watch and discuss a Bible-oriented video).
  • Dinner Groups ("Dinner for Eight" groups, dinners focused on a particular theme).
  • Discussion Groups (book clubs, enneagram assessments, environmental issues, social issues).
  • Fitness Groups: (walking,  jazzercise, swimming, yoga, aerobics).
  • Group Spiritual Discernment (led by a spiritual director).
  • Hobby Groups (cooking, gardening, wine tasting, knitting).
  • Out and About Groups (ethnic restaurants, plays, movies, museums, concerts).
  • Parenting/Grand parenting/God parenting Groups.
  • Service Group (soup kitchen, food pantry, Habitat for Humanity, river clean up days).
  • Sports Groups (cycling, bowling, golfing, pickle ball, kayaking skiing, hiking, frisbee golf).
  • Theology on Tap Groups (Beer and Bible Study).
  • Travel Groups (daylong excursions, road trips, bus tours, extended travel).

What's unique about small groups?
In addition to staying within a certain size range, small-groups often include:
  • Discussions about the purpose and outcomes for the group.
  • A group covenanting process that ensures safe space, confidentially, and appropriate behaviors.
  • The setting of a specific start and end date along with specific dates and times about when they'll meet.
  • A designated  convener/facilitator and/or a designated contact person (who also keeps everyones contact info).
  • A check-in and prayer time (i.e. activities that deepen relationships and draw people closer to God).
  • A discussion about whether or not to be an open or closed group.
  • Opportunities to encourage people and hold them accountable for living into their intentions.
  •  What is the experience of your congregation in offering small group ministry opportunities?
  • What is your personal experience as a participant in small groups? How did these experiences impact your life as a disciple? 
  • How did these experiences impact the relational connections you made in the congregation?
  • Which of the small group formats does your congregation currently offer?
  • What caught your attention as you considered the impact of small groups on the life and ministry of a congregation?


Much discerning and planning needs to take place before a small group is launched.  Listed below are questions that frequently arise when new groups are being considered.

  • Where will the group meet? At a home?  A neighborhood clubhouse?  A room at the church?  A work place setting?  A restaurant or coffee shop?
  • What day and time will the group meet?  Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays generally work best. Evenings are better than days.
  • When is the best time to launch the group?  September, January, and after Easter work well.
  • How long should the group meet?  How many weeks or months is the group going to last ?
  • Will the group be open or closed?  An important decision to make is whether to be an open group or a closed group. Open groups are simply open to new people joining through the life of the group , and closed groups may be open for the first week or two of the group but will then close to new people until the end of the life of the group.  Open groups that choose to remain open to new members have a missional mentality that welcomes people who are seeking biblical community. 
  • Will this be a short-term or an ongoing group?  Short-term groups meet immediate felt needs around a specific topic for six to eight weeks.  While short-term groups can be a bridge for people new to groups, the desire is to help people find an ongoing, long-term group that will encourage and challenge them continuously.
  • How much time is this going to take to plan, promote, and lead?  How much time are we asking people to invest if they join this group?  Will there be homework 
  • What are we going to do with children during group meetings?

Questions to Ask About Who You Seek to Reach?
  • What are the needs and concerns of those you're seeking to reach through small groups?
  • Who are the influencers within this group?
  • Who might be a respected leader to facilitate this group?
  •  Based on past experience, what you have learned about planning and launching small groups?
  • Do you have a goal for how many groups you wish to launch in the coming year?
  • Which needs are you seeking to address with the next group you launch?


Leadership matters.  This is especially true in selecting leaders for small groups. Effective small group leaders usually exhibit the following characteristics:
  • They are relational.  What is the relational capacity of the person? Do they engage others warmly? Do they connect easily with new persons? Is there evidence of deep relational connections with friends?
  • They are spiritually mature:  What evidence is presented that this person is a growing, maturing disciple? Are they regular in worship? Do they have a strong personal devotional life? Are they generous in supporting the ministries of the congregation? Do they engage in serving those beyond the congregation? Are they inviting friends/acquaintances to church or church events?
  • They are self-aware:  A good small group leader/facilitator has a high level of self-awareness. They know their strengths, baggage, and behavioral preferences.
  • They are group-aware. They can read the room. They observe people's body language and tone of voice. They note who's talking and who is not. They note who is engaged and who is not. They adapt their style and approach based on what's in the best interest of the group.
  • They advocates for others. Does this person find joy in helping others be successful?
  • They are good listeners. They have the patience to allow other people to talk and to listen to what those people are actually saying.
  • They are good communicators. They have the ability to keep the group focused by homing in on the essential points of the conversation and keep the discussing from veering off into the weeds.
  • They ask good questions. They are genuinely interested in others. The ask open-ended questions that provoke new perspectives and possibilities as they draw upon each person's wisdom.
  • They are humble. They are focused on the welfare and growth of the group's participants. They are supportive of the greater vision of the congregation of which they are a part.
  • They are organized. They can keep the group on task because they can keep themselves on task. They are disciplined in communicating to group members and running the meeting in an appropriate fashion.
  • They are grace-filled yet direct. They are willing and able to confront inappropriate behavior and deal with the dynamics and tensions within their groups.
  • They exude playfulness and positivity.  Their positive demeanor engages and energizes the group.

Use these characteristics as a screen for discerning who are the best candidates for leading your small groups. Create a job description (see sample in the appendix) for your small group leaders and customize it to reflect the uniqueness of each group. Give or send a job description to potential small group leaders. List or verbalize the primary purpose of the group, why it matters (how it leads to people's transformation, and why you felt that they were best candidate for the role you're asking them to play.
  •  What would be disqualifies for someone serving as a small group leader?
  •  What expectations do you have for when, how, and how often small groups leaders connect with members beyond the meeting time?
  • Have you considered having 2 small group leaders for each group?  If you have, how would they differentiate their roles?


Small group leaders play the role of a facilitator more than a teacher. Effective facilitation literally makes it easier to build trusting relationships within a group, draw our people's wisdom, tap into one's hopes, dreams or challenges, and navigate difficult conversations. In essence, they do whatever it takes to make conversations and the personal connections easier.

1 | Establish personal connections among members.
One of the most critical factors influencing whether people will be engaged in the conversation is whether they trust the other people in the group. Even discussion around a familiar biblical topic may be intimidating if you are not sure people will respond well to your observations. To help build trust, keep meeting over a long period of time, so that trust develops as people grow in relationship with each other. Have the group engage, at least for a few weeks, in relationship building activities. Here are just a few examples of what small group leaders do:
  • Have a display of common items (pen, comb, newspaper, light bulb, etc.), and ask each participant to select one of the items. Then have each participant share their own personal story using the item selected as a prop.
  • Invite participants to share with a couple of others in the group "two truths and a lie" about themselves (two truths that people wouldn't know). Invite the groups to try and detect the lie statement.
  • Pilot using "30 Second Mysteries" cards to spur people's imagination and deepen engagement.
  • Show your scars! Have each participant tell a story about a scar they have and how they got it.
  • Give the group a couple of questions and invite them to find a partner and share responses to a few questions.
  • Establish a "Parking Lot" where ideas are parked until more appropriate for discussion.
  • Engage people in physical activity when possible. Pair up people for a "walk and talk" activity.
  • Give people newsprint sheets and have them draw a picture or identify bullet points for a given activity.
  • Let people share with someone in the group the results of some form of personal assessment (e.g. 16 Personalities,  Enneagram, etc.).

2 | Form a cohesive, trusting group
It's not uncommon for newly-formed groups to create a behavioral covenant with one another. This covenant describes ways that the group will interact with one another:
Groups may decide that only positive responses to others are acceptable behaviors - no judgment or put downs, etc. Group usually agree that what is shared in the group setting is confidential and not to be shared beyond the group setting.

  • Stage 1 - Forming. People are polite and are unsure what to expect. They wonder what they will get out of the experience and if it will be worth their time. During this stage, facilitators provide structure and direction. They set a positive, safe tone. They discuss the importance confidentiality and create relationship-building opportunities.
  • Stage 2 - Storming. This stage is usually the messiest. Individuals are seeking to finding their role and identity in the group. They may still be deciding if they remain in the group or leave.  Without clear norms and structure, participants may engage in side conversations or talk over each other. They may exhibit anger, frustration and  passive, aggressive behaviors. In this environment, some people may withdraw if they become uncomfortable. Facilitators keep the conversation flowing, use active listening skills, and may need to address "problem" individuals outside of group setting.
  • Stage 3 - Norming. This stage is when the group seems to gel and when you'll see the greatest amount of group cohesion. People are comfortable sharing more often and at deeper levels. Facilitators provide activities to build group, and ask questions related to "What? So What? and Now What?":
  • Stage 4 - Performing. This stage exhibits the greatest amount of interdependence among members. People are more open to being accountable and holding others accountable. Facilitators provide activities to interact, reflect, and debrief shared experiences and help members apply learnings to their daily life

3 | Design settings that promote caring, consequential conversations.
What kind of setting is most likely to create an atmosphere conducive for the type of group you are facilitating?
Is the group primarily a classroom experience? Is the purpose to have people listen to you and engage you, or is it more of a discussion focus where you want people to be engaging with one another? If it is the latter, you probably don't want to have the room arranged with chairs in rows where people will have their backs to one another.
Is the space one that conjures up images of sitting in class, even if the chairs are arranged in a circle? That might be counter-productive if you are trying to create an atmosphere of intimacy and trust. Might a space designated for more casual fellowship and interaction be a better location than the traditional classroom? Or might the group find that the more informal feel of a participant's home to be advantageous as a meeting place? Will the group be meeting for an extended period of time (e.g. longer than 45 minutes to an hour)? If so, find something more comfortable than traditional folding metal chairs. Is there an adjustable thermostat where the room can be kept at a comfortable temperature?

Have you designed the meeting time to allow for participants to build relationships? Do your meetings that have a balance between structured time when the work or desired outcomes get addressed and looser time in which people become acquainted?  Will food or beverages be provided? Will there be breaks for eating or stretching? Consider adding group builders. Consider enlisting volunteers to host refreshments. It gives the facilitator a break and allows participants the opportunity to serve one another.  Is there a general "catch up on life" time where people have an opportunity to share and engage others? How will you provide a time for the sharing of prayer concerns and the opportunity to pray for one another as needed?

4 | Create a small group facilitators toolkit that's easy to transport (if your group moves around).
What tools might you need as a facilitator? Which high tech and low tech tools will enable your facilitators. Common equipment, tools, and supplies include:
  • Tech gear: laptop, projector, screen, monitor, speakers and access on internet
  • Office supplies: pens, markets, post-it notes, newsprint pads, index cards, etc.
  • Team building tools: Visual Faith cards, legos, tiny props, deck of cards, talking stick, TalkSheets, etc. View the Team Building Ideas page of this site for more ideas.

5 | Plan in advance how to deal with challenging members.
Since small groups in real churches are composed of real people, it is inevitable that you will face challenges in managing the group dynamics. For those of us who facilitate small groups, it is a question of when - not if- you will deal with the problem of someone who complicates the group interactions and creates situations that make other group members feel uncomfortable. Listed below are unhelpful behaviors that of show up in small group settings
  • Monopolizers. Over talks. Wants to be in create 'time limit.'  has all the answers. Facilitators need to interrupt and point out what is going on.
  • Personalities that create team conflict. This includes subversives, manipulators, passive aggressives, explosives. hyper-avoiders.
  • Derailers. Attempts to derail team efforts behind the scene or underground. They may use negative emotions such as fear and anger to get their own way. They seem agreeable but are not- will answer 'yes' when meaning 'no' - then not follow through. They will not confront any issue - smiles that everything is okay.
  • "Me" focused rather than "we" focused. Steers conversations toward their personal agenda; not interested in team as a whole.  Wants to control outcomes using manipulative tactics.  May control members using anger, fear or playing the role of a victim. 
  • Non-contributors. They don't want to get Involved, take a risk, act with courage to get things done. Does not want to be part of the team or be in sync with the team objectives. Call it as soon as discovered; confront the individual. Point out what is happening-call it tor what it is: manipulative behavior. Confront the lack of follow-through and the inconsistencies between word and deed.  

6 | Design your gathering time; be willing to adapt your flow and format that best fits your group.
While every small group has its own personality, and you can make adjustments which account for the context of the group you are facilitating, there are some basic principles which will greatly enhance the effectiveness of any group if they are practiced consistently.
  • Make sure the group members have the needed resources for the meeting: Books/workbooks Additional resources (articles, video clips, etc.).
  • Encourage group members to be prepared for the conversation: Outside assignments, Reading/reflection on materials, Devotional readings.
  • Provide regular communication to group members: Meeting reminders with emphasis on preparations, Summary of prayer requests from the group, Any logistical considerations (planning activities).
  • Have a plan for following up when a group member is missing in action
  • Have a defined time frame for how long the group will meet. The optimum for effective small group discussion is 60-90 minutes. Respect the obligations of the group members by starting and ending gatherings on schedule.

A typical small group meeting experience usually includes:
  • Gathering time.  A few minutes of informal conversation between group members, usually with some light refreshments provided.
  • Connect time.  A few minutes at the beginning of the meeting devoted to "catching up" on life, following up on commitments made in previous sessions, and building of relationships.
  • Discussion/Reflection. This constitutes the majority of the meeting time and may involve watching a video, having a discussion around prepared questions, conversations beyond prepared questions, etc. 
  • Next Steps. Invite participants to consider what they will do with what they are discovering in the teaching/discussion. What actions will they take and be accountable for?
  • Prayer. Take time for pray for one another's prayer concerns. Make a list of prayers and email to participates so they can pray for each other between small group meetings.

7 |  Pay attention to how you welcome people.
Radical  hospitality is marked by love and turns strangers into friends. To creating a culture of hospitality: 
  • Remember that everything speaks. Walt Disney was famous for insisting that everything in his amusement parks sends signals about what the organization values .
  • Hospitality starts before your gathering begins. Was there a smiling face at the door?  Did group members welcome the new person in?  Did the condition of the house show we care about the comfort of our guests?
  • Pray consistently for the group. Prayer sets the stage for life -changing moments to occur through the action of love toward friends and strangers . As you build your group roster , take time each day to pray for each member by name. Once the group has started , occasionally send a text or direct message to a group member to let them know you are praying for them that day. For the small group leader, hospitality is not just an act to be performed;  it is a posture to be assumed .

8  | Continuously find ways to enhance the group experience.
If a group is to grow to its fullest relational potential, it is important that group members have opportunities to bond in common cause and fellowship beyond the boundaries of their regular meetings together. There is something about moving beyond the strictures of your regularly scheduled get-together that frees people to get to know and appreciate one another in new ways. In an informal social setting, some people who are shy during small group discussions really shine; or if you are on a service outing, someone who is handy or a natural extrovert can really open up and be themselves.
  • Sharing meals together: Groups often find that sharing a meal together (regularly or periodically) is a great way to build relationships and trust within the group. Camaraderie and trust are, of course, the foundational elements in creating space for deep, transparent, and vulnerable conversations that transform lives. The group may go to a local restaurant or may choose to do a 'pot luck.'
  • Serving Together: Every group is encouraged to find a way to serve together periodically (every month to six weeks is recommended). This provides a safe place for participants to explore how they are gifted to serve, as well as providing another great opportunity to build relationships within the group. It also expands dramatically the witness of the church in the local community.

9 | Create time after every gathering to evaluate the experience.
The best small groups continuously make changes and course corrections to amplify the impact of their groups. Decide on what criteria you'll use to determine the impact and effectiveness of your group and gatherings.  Keep in mind the primary goal of each group and any short-term wins that members have expressed.  Listed below are some questions we invite small group leaders to reflect on following their gatherings:
  • Where did you see growth in people's spirituality?
  • Where did you see relationships deepen, or the group becoming more authentic and transparent?
  • Who talked, and who didn't, and what does that mean?
  • In what ways the primary purpose of the group fulfilled at this event?
  • What worked and what didn't work related to the flow of the event? 
  • Based on your insights from the questions above, what will you do differently the next time?

General Tips for Gatherings
  • Create a group covenant | Members are committing to : grow healthy spiritual lives by building a healthy community give priority to the group meeting and to call as soon as possible if they will be absent or late create a safe place where people can be heard , feel loved ( no quick answers , snapping to judgment , or simple fixes ) , and know that anything that is shared is confidential and will not be discussed outside the group give the group permission to speak into their lives and help them to live a healthy , balanced spiritual life that is pleasing to God build relationships by getting to know each other and praying for each other regularly invite their friends who might benefit from the group recognize the importance of helping others experience community by eventually multiplying and starting a new group.
  • Don’t wait on everyone to arrive before starting .
  • Keep the first twenty minutes informal .
  • Have a time schedule in mind for the meeting .
  • Have a transition in mind to get the group to the finish line of the discussion .
  • Aim to end the meeting fifteen minutes early .
  • Be available after group , but keep some boundaries .
  • Give everyone a group roster with names, children, emails and phone numbers.
  • Email prayer lists.
  • If you're connecting online, consider using a Facebook Group
  • Consider using a group texting app like "remind me."
  • Periodically send handwritten notes . In our world of the digital and the immediate , an old - fashioned handwritten note can go a long way . If someone in the group comes to mind during your prayer time , drop them a quick note to say you are thinking about and praying for them. Offline coffee meetings .

Recognize the Power of Silence
Small group leaders are often afraid of silence. Rather than avoiding silence within the group, embrace it!  Use silence to:
  • Encourage group members to speak. It's counterintuitive to use silence as a tool for participation, but it works.  Effective facilitators should only talk 20-30 percent of the time.  Keep in mind that you have read the discussion questions ahead of time and It will take everyone else a few moments to process the material before they are ready to answer.  It’s uncomfortable to let a question sit there for a short time but if you can let the awkwardness go, someone will break the silence .
  • Use silence to allow a moment to sink in.
  • Use silence to meditate on scripture, a quote, or a provocative question.

If No One Shows Up . . .
It can be very disheartening to prepare for your group and then have no one show up . It’s sometimes worse if only one person comes ! Here are a few factors to think about if no one signs up or shows up for the group :
  • Is the group being hosted in too remote of an area from the church ? It will be more difficult to ask church members to attend a group that is over fifteen to twenty minutes from their house.
  • Is the group’s focus too narrow ? Targeting a specific cause for a group to form around can be beneficial , but it will take longer to gain traction .
  • Are you meeting on an unpopular night ? Trying to host a group on Friday nights in a community where high school football shuts the town down every week will probably be a tough go .
  • Are the meetings consistent enough ? Groups that only meet once a month will never gain the relational equity it takes to build loyalty . Even groups that meet every other week will struggle with consistency . If a member misses one or two meetings in a row , they will get disconnected from the life of the group and will drop out . Groups that meet every week have a much higher rate of success . Avoid cancelling a meeting if only a few members cannot make it .
  • Is the group shrinking ? It is always good to add new people during the life of the small group . Groups will inevitably shrink if new people aren’t being added . Eventually , you will end up with a good solid core that attends weekly .
  •  What do you see as the essential elements of a small group meeting?
  • What would you add or modify from the suggested meeting flow found in this chapter?
  • What would be some questions you'd ask a small group leader to help them reflect on and improved their facilitation skills?


Why do some small groups grow and multiply while others do not? Is there a set of activities small group leaders can employ to increase the probability that small groups will grow and multiply?  Is there a set of activities that are attainable and realistic that small group leaders can embed into their weekly schedules?

Research has shown that certain practices, if performed consistently, have a profound impact on the vitality of small group ministries. Listed below are the essential habits we've found are worth paying close attention to:  

1  |  Schedule time to  dream and design.  
In Stephen Covey's book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the author reminds readers to begin with the end in mind. Small group leaders must do the same and have a clear, compelling vision for the group they lead. Having a dream focuses people's direction and channels their energy.  Invite leaders to paint a picture of the the group's preferred future. Envision how members will grow in faith, deepen relationships with each other, gain clarity about key issues, etc. Invite leaders to brainstorm ways to multiply their group, improve their gathering times, develop new leaders, and identify new participants. Invite your leaders to dream about ways to develop their facilitation and group leadership skills and continue to deepen their own faith. Help leaders have a plan for consistently inviting new people to the group, helping members extend invitations to others, and to pray for one another. Encourage leaders to define what they need to do between gatherings to encourage and equip members, and how they'll follow up with members who miss meetings. Consider what types of social or service opportunities the group might engage in throughout the year.

2  |  Pray for members daily. 
Prayer is the most important activity of the small group leader and it is one of the simplest things we can do. Help leaders build it into their daily schedules and make it a high priority. Invite leaders to share when, where and how they pray for their groups. Invite members to pray for each other between gatherings. Consider emailing or texting member's prayer concerns that are mentioned during gathering as a reminder to pray. Consider introducing new prayer practices to members to "try on" between sessions.

3  |  Invite new people to visit the group weekly. 
Your group can't grow unless you have and keep guests. Increase the number of guests and you will increase the amount of growth. Increase the rate of retention and you will increase the rate of growth. Increase both and you will begin to multiply your group.  Teach people how to extend invitations. When sending reminders to group members, send it in a format and using content that is easy for members to forward on to friends, family members, church contacts, neighbors, and co-workers. Send a reminder email the day of your gathering. Send a reminder text 1-2 hours before the event. Don't be discouraged if not everyone shows up. Typically one-half of the people you ask will say that they'll come, and one-half of those who say they will come will actually show up. If one out of four people you ask show up, consider that to be a success. Persistence also makes a difference. Many people who don't come at the first invitation often come after the third or fourth invitation if you've built a caring relationship. People are often more open to joining a new group during times of loss or transition. Think of people who may have lost a loved one, moved to a new location, had a marriage end or a major illness.  When inviting people, share with people that you have a wonderful group, that they will fit right in, and that their gift of (humor, creative thinking, an inquiring mindset) would be a welcome addition.

4  |  Contact group members regularly. 
If you continue to contact group members, they will continue to come. Contacting says that you care. Once someone gets added to the roster, usually after the first visit, the highly effective leader will contact the person. This usually involves a short phone call thanking them for coming, asking how they liked the group, and inviting them to return. As these new ones come back and get connected to the group, the group grows. Effective leader often spend a few evenings a week and Saturday afternoon making five-minute phone calls that usually include a word of encouragement, asking how you might pray for them, and asking a few questions about their life such as:
  • What are you up to this week?
  • How are your kids doing?
  • Do you like most about your job?
  • On a scale of one to ten, how stressful was your week?
  • Where did you grow up? Where have you lived in the past?
  • What do you like most about our church? What drew you to our church?
  • What do you like best about our small group? What do you need most from this group?
  • What would you like to be different in your life a year from now?
  • What do you think God is calling you to do at this chapter in your life?
  • What are the things everyone says you are really good at?
  • Have you ever thought of leading a group?

Following up with people at key times
  • People who visit your small group for the first time. A follow up call is often the key to getting visitors to come back a second time. It lets them know that they were welcome. It gives you an opportunity to answer questions or clear up any confusion they might have. It also gives them a needed nudge to make the effort to come back. Follow up weekly for the first month to establish a relationship with them. 
  • People who were  absent. Call people to let them know they were missed. If they were ill or having other problems, it lets you know how to pray for them. It encourages them not to allow missing group meetings to become a habit.
  • People going through trials or transitions. A call  communicates that what they share in the group is taken seriously. It says that what is discussed in the group has meaning outside of the group in daily life. It shows that you care about them as people and not as numbers. 
  • After a tense moment in the group.   Contact by the leader soon after such a time tends to keep such things from building into problems down the road. Growing through conflict is the key to deepening relationships. Too many relationships remain superficial because conflict has been avoided or left unresolved. Do not miss this opportunity to deepen your relationship.

Small group leaders should have a place for keeping notes on each group member. Continue to honor confidentiality and avoid sharing anything from a one-on-one conversation with the group. Create a schedule to help ensure that everyone is contacted regularly. Consider using other small group members to share the contacting load.

5  |  Prepare for the group meeting.
Effective leaders have learned that preparation is the key to approaching the group meeting with confidence. They spend the time preparing themselves and the agenda for the meeting. During the group, they are free to enjoy the group and see God work in and through them and the group. Preparation builds credibility and increases quality. Consider expanding your planning horizon. Plan 4-6 weeks ahead which will give you lead time to be more creative with your gatherings and to involve other members more fully in helping lead upcoming gatherings. See chapter 4 for suggestions on leading a group meeting.

6  |  Raise up new leaders to replace themselves to multiply ministry impact.
Effective leaders think about who else might lead a small group in the future. They plant seeds of possibilities in the minds of other people.  They intentionally:
  • Identify people who possess the skills and character traits for leading small groups. Encourage your leaders to maintain a "prospect" list that includes the names and contact information of at least 10 people. Review the criteria listed in Chapter 2 about the traits to look for in a small group leader. Start listing possible candidates from the group you lead and from your list on contacts. Gather names and contact information from  other leaders about who they'd recommend. Prioritize who you will call first based on their skill set and availability. 
  • Invite leaders with the appropriate skill and traits to be mentored as a future small group leader. Invite people into a brief conversation about being a small group leader, now or in the future. Share the gifts you see in them along with a brief description of the roles and responsibilities of a group leader. Ask them to prayerfully consider serving in this role.
  • Invest time and energy equipping candidates to lead small groups effectively.  Share information from this page with a potential leader.  Walk through the questions with them that are found at the end of every chapter. Have the participate in a small group and spend time debriefing their experiences at small group gatherings. Ask them what they would seek to model from their experiences as well as what they might do differently. Share with them books and resources to support their learning. Invite them to help plan, promote, and evaluate upcoming gatherings. Assign them a few people to contact each week to check-in with. Ask them to give feedback on the way you lead a group - invite them to share what you should keep doing, stop doing, or start doing along with any suggestions they feel would enhance the small group experience. Eventually, have the person you are mentoring lead a small group session and then debrief the experience with them following the session. If the person appears to have the skills, character, and interest in leading a group, determine when and how that might occur.

 As a small group leader, challenge yourself to find someone to eventually replace you, and someone to launch a new group. This may be one of your greatest legacies as a group leader to help facilitate the multiplication of these ministries.
  •  Which of the 6 habits do you see yourself already doing?
  • Which habits need greater attention?
  • Are there other habits you'd add to the list?  If so, share why.
  • What's your next faithful step for acting on what's found in this chapter?


A facilitation/coaching approach to leading small groups focuses on drawing out people's gifts, wisdom, dreams, and challenges based on the primary outcomes of the group. Small group leaders help participants have clarity about what they wish to talk about, and take away from the experience.  An effective facilitator walks alongside participants and become partner's in people's transformation.  The International Coaching Federation, of which Vibrant Faith coaches are members of, define coaching as ""partnering with people in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” A coaching approach frames conversations through powerful questions to help clients (people) achieve their desired outcomes. Whether you use the International Coach Federation definition of coaching, or one of your own, you’ll notice that there are some common threads that are woven into these definitions. We believe that . .

1 | Coaching is a partnership. The coach and the client are involved in a collaborative process that is totally focused on the person being coached. The coach must create a safe, trusting environment that provides opportunities for fresh perspectives and new ways of being can be explored.

2 | Coaching accelerates what is already underway or about to begin. Coaches have a mindset of curiosity and wonder as they help clients tap into their passions and preferred futures. Through deep listening and powerful questions, the coach helps the other person gain greater clarity about what they really want and what goals and strategy they need to employ to get there.

3 | Coaches maximize potential as they move from what is to what might be. Coaches look for and develop the strengths and giftedness of the person being coached. They guide people toward developing plans to move forward, learn from their results, and make course corrections as needed.

4 | Coaches focus on short-term wins and shifts in attitudes, assumptions, words, and actions. These shifts often include trying on new habits and ways of being, or helping people recognizing limiting beliefs that may be holding them back from experiencing a better, brighter future. There’s a heavy emphasis on what clients will do NEXT so that intentions become reality.

5 | Coaches view the people they coach as the experts, not themselves. Effective coaching draws out the strengths and wisdom of the people they serve. They help clients identify where they can find the resources they need to move forward.where, in partnership with the participants, we help individuals discover connections with what they already know, benefit from new knowledge and perspectives they acquire as part of our work together, and challenge them to match their lifestyle to what they've learned. Using this model, the retention/application range is 60-80%.

Some organizations describe the coaching approach to facilitation by using the word COACH as an acronym, where the coach/facilitator: 
  • - Comes alongside.
  • O - Observes carefully.
  • A - Asks questions wisely.
  • C - Communicates options and resources.
  • H - Holds accountable (and cares for the heart).

Coaching is an intentional process and involves several key skills. For the sake of facilitating small groups, this guide highlights 5 practices that profoundly shape the impact a leader has on their group.  Here is a breakdown of the basic skills and how they might be applied within the small group leader context.

Active listening is the ability to focus completely on what is being said, as well as the sensitivity to understand what is not being said. It is the ability to understand the meaning of what is being said as a reflection of the speaker's needs and desires, while reinforcing the speaker's confidence and self-expression.  The characteristics and attitude that define an active listener are beneficial both in the context of one-to-one mentoring, as well as in a group discussion (or for that, matter in any conversation in any relationship or context).

Active listening involves . . .
Active listening involves being curious,  being fully present,  creating a safe space for conversation, conveying value, and exploring possibilities.  Active Listening is the function of specific intentional practices the small group leader consistently exercises, which often include:
  • Reflecting: Making observations which build on the speaker's comments by highlighting specific points and expanding on them.
  • Paraphrasing: Repeating back what the speaker has said in slightly different words to clarify meaning.
  • Truth telling: Pointing out obvious gaps in the speaker's reasoning, as well as statements that are clearly incorrect or in some way non-productive.

How often do you . . .? 
Small group leaders can also have a dramatic impact on the group discussion by displaying "non-listening" behaviors. Are there times when you . . .
  • Pretend to listen? This is more obvious than you might expect. You might think you're getting away with faking interest, but people can tell when you are not engaged.
  •  Check or send messages?  You can listen a little too attentively by communicating with expressions or gestures that disagree vehemently with what the speaker is saying. Try to retain a neutral listening posture. If something needs to be challenged (via truth telling), do it with your words, not your body language.
  • Hijack the speaker's message? This is a gone-rogue version of reflecting in which we intentionally flip the speaker's words to make a point they didn't intend, tweak them to make a point that's near and dear to our own perspective, or use them as a jumping off point to launch another topic or stir up the other group members. We should respect a speaker's words and sentiment for what they are, not what we wish them to be.
  • Look at the clock or your phone. That's an obvious one, but we all are subject to the fantasy that we are the sole person on the planet who can successfully multi-task in a way that's not obnoxious or obtrusive. (Tip: Given that small group leaders also must manage the time within a group, position a clock in your meeting space that is easy to see yet doesn't require the leader to avert their eyes to see what time it is).

Encouragement is one of the most powerful coaching skills in the toolkit. Most people do not get enough encouragement in any aspect of their lives. People  thrive when they are encouraged. Encouragement shows up in a group setting when the facilitator speaks words of hope, acknowledges progress and celebrates bright spots and wins, empowers others to act, and sees each person through the lens of their God-given potential. Genuine encouragement is:
  • authentic.
  • enthusiastic and energizing.
  • specific (share the behaviors and milestones you're observing).
  • substantive—reflecting not just "what" but "who" the recipient is.

Powerful questioning is the ability to pose insightful queries that reveal the information needed for maximum benefit to move a conversation forward or help an individual probe an issue.  Dorothy Leeds, in The 7 Powers of Questions: Secrets to Successful Communication in Life and at Work, suggests that such that powerful questions:
  • demand answers.
  • stimulate thinking.
  • give powerful information.
  • lead to powerful listening.
  • get people to open up.
  • get people to persuade themselves.

Avoid questions that distract people from what's most important and impactful for their transformation. Let go of minor issues and  focusing on small details at the expense of what really matters. Avoid rehashing the past and invite people to focus on what they can do now. Channel people's energy about way they can collaborate with others rather than engaging in "us vs. them" mindsets. Ask purposeful questions that help participants stay connected to what's most important, look to the future, rethink their assumptions and attitudes,  and imagine a preferred future.  Keep the group's focus on the people in the room, seeking to draw out their experiences, challenges, opportunities, and next steps.

  • Ask open-ended questions:  Avoid "yes or no" questions. Use as a guideline the old journalistic formulation of "who, what, when, where and how," if it's helpful, but try to ask questions that require detailed, thoughtful responses.
  • Avoid solution-oriented questions. These are questions that are formulated in such a way that you are really just forcing the speaker to provide answers you were already looking for. Your questions should instead be genuinely curious and allow for honest expression.
  • Try zooming in /zooming out.  Harvard's Rosabeth Moss Kanter's metaphor about the need to take a wider perspective, while sometimes zooming in on the details. It's an important skill to know when each view - wide angle or microscopic - is valuable (particularly at knowing which details are the critical factors in a discussion or a decision).

Direct communication (responding) is the ability to communicate effectively during coaching sessions and to use language that has the greatest positive impact on the conversation and its participants. Responding includes:
  • Truth-telling. Sharing what you are seeing from the facilitator's perspective.
  • Feedback. Giving honest assessments and opinions (this is non-directive, e.g. consulting).
  • Insights. Sharing intuitive thoughts.
  • Interrupting. Masterful interrupting is truly an art and holds great benefit to the coachee, bringing them back on track or helping them get to the point.
  • Advising, While the focus of a coaching conversation is to tap into the expertise of the coachee, there are also times when the coach has expertise and experience that can have a positive impact on the progress of the coachee. The key is that the advice must be appropriate and asked for.
  • Directing. This is a technique for steering the conversation back toward the stated goals for the session or relationship.
  • Messaging. This is the speaking of a 'truth' that will help the coachee to act more quickly.

Small group leaders help members move from thinking about an issue to taking active steps to do something about that issue. This may occur during a meeting with everyone present or may show up  in a one-to-one conversation. Help participants
  • Determine small, specific action steps. What's next?  What specific thing are you/we trying to accomplish? What resources do you/we need?  What will you/we have to have in place in order to make this happen?
  • Anticipate, work around, or remove obstacles. What could stop you/we from doing this?  What are the obstacles that could stop you/us from moving ahead? What could go wrong? If you/we move ahead, what is the worst case scenario for how things could derail?
  • Gain buy-in and tangible commitment. What could you/we do? What are the possibilities? What will you/we do? Let's pick a specific course of action and commit to it. When will this be done? Let's don't leave it hanging out there amorphously. Let's pick a date and commit to it.
  • Identify small steps.  Having identified a goal, what are the small steps that will be necessary to get
us going on the journey?
  • Try using  backward planning. Let's "begin with the end in mind," and chart out the steps that will be required to get us to the destination.
  • Create structures and accountability. Create a framework for how the steps will be managed, who is responsible, and when things will occur.
  • Anchor the change your seeking with new norms. How do we reinforce our core values as we move forward? How do we stay anchored to the core idea that empowers our goal?
  • Focus on daily actions and the next faithful step. What daily to-do items will move us forward toward the goal. As we're breaking things down into "small steps," what recurring actions will keep us accountable to making those steps happen.


1  |  THE BASIC AGREEMENT (from International Coaching Federation)
Most coaching models reflect the 5 basic elements of a coaching conversation. Listed below is the basic agreement that frames these elements as questions:
1.  What would you like to talk about?
2.  What would you like to takeaway from the conversation?
3.  Are we still talking about what's most important to you?
4.  What do  you see as your next steps for moving forward?
5.  Who will hold you accountable?  Who might support your efforts?

The GROW model provides a useful structure for coaches to help their coachees move forward in tangible ways (in whatever area of their life - work, relationships, personal growth - in which they wish to move forward. In the small group context (and if you find yourself at some point in a Mentor or Spiritual Guide context), the GROW model can be very effective with guiding accountability discussions. The elements of the GROW model can help focus the group discussion for defining accountability among group members, and it can be an incisive tool for helping individual group members who are interested in growth identify goals and ways to meet those goals.  The GROW model was developed by John Whitmore in Coaching for Performance: The Principles and Practice of Coaching and Leadership and identifies four areas of focus for moving forward in a positive direction.  Here is a textual breakdown of these principles, as used in a standard coaching conversation (the kind you might have with someone for whom you are acting as a spiritual mentor):

GOAL: Where are we headed?
  • How can I be most helpful to you today? 
  • What do you need to get the most out of this conversation?
  •  What role do you need a listener or advisor to play?
  • What topic should we concentrate on during this session? 
  • What is the one topic on which we could focus today that will have the most impact on moving you forward in a meaningful direction?
  • What are the issues that you face today?
  • What are the most important items that are holding you back, giving you grief, or sapping your energy?

REALITY: Where are we starting from?
  • Tell me about your current situation. Describe it as honestly as you can, yet as objectively as possible.
  • What are the difficulties that you face? Name the obstacles and how each is impacting your attitude.
  • How are you resourcing yourself around this issue? 
  • In what ways have you sought to gain advice or consult expertise to work through this issue?
  • What is your biggest area of discomfort about this issue? 
  • What is the one thing that is causing you the most stress and anxiety?

OPTIONS: How can we get there?
  • Tell me what you think are some options for a solution. List them, without preemptively dismissing possibilities.
  • What else? Probe more deeply around all angles of the issue. What are you missing? 
  • What other options might present themselves as you take on other perspectives?
  • If there were no obstacles (like money or people) what else would you consider?
  • If all options were possible, what would be the best path forward?

WHAT WILL YOU DO? What will it take to get there?
  • What do you need to do this? 
  • Having decided to move forward with a defined strategy, what are the specific things you will need to make it happen?
  • How will you prioritize your options? 
  • How will you decide what needs to be done first and what can wait till further in the process?
  • What one thing can you accomplish this week that will move you in the right direction?
  • Commit to taking that action fearlessly.   How can I pray for you this week?
  •  How will thinking like a coach (rather than just a teacher) change your small group dynamic?
  • Which of the coaching skills (listening, encouraging, asking powerful questions, responding, negotiating) do you find most natural and which do you find most difficult?
  • What do you find most challenging about being a good listener when you are facilitating a group discussion? What frustrates you the most?
  • How can inspire/lead other participants in your group to also emulate these coaching skills?
  • What insights did you gain from learning about the GROW model that you can use in facilitating group growth?


Programs and activities that churches seek to involve people should always address the follow items:
  • What?  What are we specifically inviting people to participate in (when, where, who it's for, what we'll be doing, etc.).
  • So What?  Why does it matter?  How will lives be changed or enhanced as a result of the activity?
  • Now what?  What's the next step?  How do I learn more or sign up?  How do I prepare for it?

When promoting small groups, the goal is to make it clear and compelling about what we're inviting people to part of.  The goal is also to allay any concerns they have about joining an and to make it easy to take the next step.  Thriving congregations with active small group ministries offer:
  • A simple sign-up process.  This should be an immediate, one-step process that can be done during worship, at events, and online - ideally on people's smart phones.
  • An online and a PDF/printed version of upcoming small group offerings. Each small group should include a brief description, the day and time it meets, when it starts and ends, and who the leader is.
  • Registration via Connection Cards that are made available at all worship services and church-sponsored activities.
  • Access to stories from past or current participants about how they've benefitted from being part of small groups and why they'd recommend that others participate. 
  • A physical place to get additional information (i.e. church office, information booth,  welcome center, or where refreshments are serve).
  • Adequate time for promoting upcoming groups (provide at least a 2 month promotion window).
  • A fully informed staff (and elected leaders) who are part of small groups and actively encourage others to participate). Some churches provide "small group" business cards that can be easily shared by members and leaders to give to friend, family members, and interested parties.
  • Do you have a brochure or Small Groups Catalog that can be easily shared with others in person, or online?
  • Do you have "buy-in" from all staff and elected leaders?   Does this buy-in translate into all leaders taking ownership for promoting small group ministries?
  • Does the wording you use to describe your small group offerings appeal to new people/non-members?
  • Is your church over-programmed?  Will small group ministry get lost in the midst of all other programmatic offerings?  How might you create more white space?
  • How would you planning process need to change to allow adequate time to properly promote your small group offerings?


Recent observations of and interviews with leaders of small group ministries have led to significant insights on what practices and approaches support thriving small group ministries. Listed below are some of the most recents learnings Vibrant Faith has gleaned from those who manage small group ministries and lead small groups:

  • Small groups that focus primary on serving their own members rather than on reaching out to others quickly become inwardly focused and stagnant. Small group leaders often invite the same people already involved in multiple activities at church to be in a small group.
  • Groups that actively promote making new friendships, or deepening existing ones, are more likely to be successful than groups that focus and creating more intimate relationships. For men in particular, talking about intimacy can scare them off from joining a group.
  • Bigger groups appear to be better and smaller ones. Groups smaller than 8 people often struggle due to limited engagement with other people. A group of 8 will almost always have 2-3 people who can't make it due to a conflict, work situation, or illness. Participants mentioned that they felt more comfortable in larger groups - they could but didn't feel pressed to do so like when they've been in smaller groups. Larger groups also lighten the load of a facilitator. Groups that are small is size force the facilitator to be more prepared in case they have to generate more of the conversation due to when fewer people are participating.
  • Zoom and other online platforms have allowed many people to participate in small groups that wouldn't have due to travel, time, or caring for children. 
  • Groups that were deemed failures pointed to 4 key elements - wrong time (too many conflicts), wrong leader (lacked organizational, relational, or facilitation skills), inadequate promotion needed to generate sufficient critical mass for a group, and poor communication before and between gatherings. 

  •  What are the needs of those not in groups? 
  • What are the barriers that prevent people from signing up for groups?
  • Would it make sense to offer fewer small groups that are larger in size?
  • Would it make sense t offer fewer small groups and then to do a great job of planning, promoting and facilitating them.
- How do I set up this system so that it focuses on getting new people to sign up?

  •  Aim for 20 people to be in a group. You'll probably end up with 12-15 people consistently attending. You can always break into smaller groups at the same event if needed.
  • Promote your groups as a safe place to meet new people, make friends, grow in faith and have fun . Don’t promise meaningful or life-changing relationships.
  • Create groups with clear start and end dates that usually involve 8-12 weekly sessions. Consider offering small groups in the fall, winter and spring - most likely taking the summer off.
  • Strive for having 50 percent of the participants to be from outside the church, or people who are not already involved in multiple church activities. Focus on getting new people to sign up rather than members to sign up.
  • Create settings where participants feel comfortable inviting their friends, neighbors, and co-workers. 
  • Make it easy to sign up - remove unnecessary steps (similar to Amazon's 1 click mindset).  Invite people to sign up on the spot - during worship, on your website, or via text message or social media post.
  • Focus on growing capable, confident leaders rather than growing a certain number of small groups.
  •  What's the most important takeaway you have from the summary of observations, wonderings, and recommendations?
  • Which ideas might you pilot first before more fully investing in?
  • Does your church have the bandwidth/capacity to offer multiple programs and activities in addition to offering small groups?
  • Are your paid staff and elected sufficiently committed to creating a church of small groups?  What would be some indicators that they are?