One of the most common challenges for small group pastors is finding enough small group leaders. To top it off, just when you think you're getting a little bit of traction you learn that some of your best leaders are moving away or taking a break.
Can you relate?
Now, you may think this problem is just part of serving at your church. And you may have concluded that the reason your friend across town has more leaders than she needs is simply because of the church in which she serves. But I'll bet it has to do with a few secrets she's learned and it hasn't occurred to her that you haven't learned them.
You see, over the years I've discovered that it's actually possible to discover an unlimited number of leaders...once you unlock a few secrets.
8 secrets to finding an unlimited number of small group leaders:
1. Leverage your senior pastor's influence
It is impossible to overstate the potential of your senior pastor as small group champion. So much of building a thriving small group ministry depends on your senior pastor's willingness to play the role of champion and effectiveness at playing it well.
When your senior pastor learns to make the ask, to invite participation effectively, you will have unlocked a powerful secret. Until you've learned to leverage your senior pastor's influence you will be playing with both hands tied behind your back.
When your senior pastor learns to make the ask, to invite participation effectively, you will have unlocked a powerful secret. Until you've learned to leverage your senior pastor's influence you will be playing with both hands tied… Click To Tweet
2. Set minimum leader requirements at an entry level
Churches have many reasons for setting high minimum requirements for small group leaders. Protecting the flock and providing excellent examples for group members are just two of the many reasons for high standards.
And yet, setting minimum leader requirements too high only ensures you will not be able to find enough leaders. Don't miss the fact that Jesus did not look for Jesus Jr. when he recruited the twelve. He chose the twelve from a slightly larger group that had responded to an invitation to come and see and invited them to come and follow. And once they were moving in the right direction He invited them to come and fish.
Setting minimum leader requirements too high only ensures you will not be able to find enough leaders. Don't miss the fact that Jesus did not look for Jesus Jr. when he recruited the twelve. He chose the twelve from a slightly larger… Click To Tweet
We often have it backwards and then complain that we can't find enough leaders. Worse, when we don't have enough leaders we chalk it up to congregational immaturity or unwillingness to put the interests of others ahead of their own.
Making it easy to begin leading and leader development nearly automatic will open the door to a new wave of high potential leader candidates who say yes to the right invitation.
3. Keep your most important leader identification strategies focused on the edges.
There is nothing wrong with insisting that every leader have an apprentice. It is a biblical strategy. It is a really good leadership development strategy. It's just not an adequate group multiplication strategy in most cases. In fact, it almost never produces new leaders and new groups fast enough to be the main or only strategy.
And that's okay because in most churches the largest number of potential group leaders are not currently in a group.
Think about what that means. For starters it means they are almost certainly not part of the core, committed or inside edge of the congregation (to use Saddleback's concentric circles metaphor). It actually means they are most likely part of the crowd.
So, if your leadership identification strategies can't see beyond those already connected in groups, you'll miss out on the largest number of potential leaders.
4. Get over the idea that the best candidates are people you know
As your church grows it becomes increasingly less likely that your pastor and staff will know everyone. This makes any leader identification strategy that depends on the personal knowledge of staff doomed to fail. This make a small group connection (where the event itself identifies leader candidates) or the HOST strategy (which recruits people who know at least two other people) excellent strategies.
It also means that unless you serve in a very small church, there is a really good chance that you don't know who the best potential leaders are.
And that means you must learn to use a few strategies that identify high potential leaders (And that's where the strategies we use come in).
An important side-note on this secret:
The least connected people in your congregation are often the most connected in the community. Please don't miss this game-changing secret. They have friends already. Their friends don't attend your church...yet.
The least connected people in your congregation are often the most connected in the community. Please don't miss this game-changing secret. They have friends already. Their friends don't attend your church...yet. Click To Tweet
5. Provide high quality just-in-time coaching for new leaders
Prerequisite completion of a leader training class often puts the cart before the horse and at the same time eliminates easy steps into leadership.
Adults learn on a need-to-know basis. and brand new leaders come with a built-in need-to-know.
When you connect new leaders to a coach (who really knows the ropes) at the very beginning, it assures your newest leaders that help is available. It also sets in motion a discipleship relationship that may long outlast the need for a small group coach.
When you connect new leaders to a coach (who really knows the ropes) at the very beginning, it assures your newest leaders that help is available. It also sets in motion a discipleship relationship that may long outlast the need for a… Click To Tweet
See also, 7 Core Ideas about Small Group Coaching.
6. Don't expect the best candidates to volunteer
A widespread trend in America is for people to migrate from smaller churches to larger churches where they and their family members will have access to more attractive opportunities.
Within the migration are many who were the 20% who did everything in their old church. In many cases they are temporarily happy with the opportunity to arrive at 10:55, drop their kids in an excellent children's program, sit in on a weekend service where they are anonymous, and be pulling out of the parking lot at 12:20 on their way to lunch.
They may respond to an opportunity to join a small group, but they will rarely volunteer to lead one.
If your leader identification strategies depend on potential leaders volunteering their services, you need to learn this secret.
This trend makes a small group connection a very effective strategy because the event is designed to identify leader candidates.
7. Create first steps that are short-term no-obligation test-drives
You will engage many more leader candidates when you learn to create and implement first steps that feel like a test-drive. If it feels like a lifetime commitment, you will miss out on many, many people who are reluctant to say yes.
Note: "Sign up for the 13-week fall semester" or "sign up for 2022" qualify as lifetime commitments.
You will engage many more leader candidates when you learn to create and implement first steps that feel like a test-drive. If it feels like a lifetime commitment, you will miss out on many, many people who are reluctant to say yes. Click To Tweet
Instead, positioning short-term commitments (6 weeks is ideal) as try-it-and-see-if-you-like-it opportunities will help many potential leaders to put a toe-in-the-water and experience confirming satisfaction and affirmation.
See also, How to Design Next Steps and First Steps.
8. Create mission opportunities with built-in end dates
While many of the best leader candidates are people you don't know, we all know that some existing groups are full of people who should be leading a group.
You know who they are.
You've probably even tried to recruit them to lead a group.
When you've tried to recruit them they've said, "This group is how we are fed!" Or maybe they've said, "We are already serving in two other ministries. This is where we can get our own needs met."
In my experience those same people who wave off your best efforts will often respond to an invitation to "help start a new 6-week group and then you can go back." Essentially you are only asking them to take a 6-week vacation from their current group.
This strategy works best when your senior pastor makes the ask of all groups to consider "taking a small group vacation" to help start a lot of new groups and connect lots of unconnected people.
See also, Take a Small Group Vacation.
Image by Mykl Roventine