Leader Qualification: Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar, or Open Bar?

Share via:

Who can lead a group in your system? How are you framing your leader qualification pathway? Are you lowering the bar to help launch more groups and connect more people? Are you raising the bar in order to deliver the kind of leadership that actually makes disciples? Or maybe what you've got in the way of a system doesn't even have a bar?

How are you working this issue? Have you got it figured out? And is there a right way to do it? Or a best way?

Can I tell you something? I don't think there's a right way or a best way to determine who can lead a group that works for every church. Instead, what you're trying to do ought to inform the way you land on leader qualification.

I don't think there's a right way or a best way to determine who can lead a group that works for every church. Instead, what you're trying to do ought to inform the way you land on leader qualification. Click To Tweet

Remember, there is no problem-free small group system, model or strategy. Wise leaders simply figure out which set of problems they'd rather have.

There is no problem-free small group system, model or strategy. Wise leaders simply figure out which set of problems they'd rather have. Click To Tweet

So...what are the problems in the higher bar/lower bar scenario? Here are what I think is the upside and the main problems:

Lowering the bar in terms of who can lead:

  • Upside: You potentially have a much larger leader recruiting class. If your HOST candidates invite their own friends to fill their groups, you'll be able to reach into the community. Whether you use the HOST strategy or the Small Group Connection strategy, there is often a greater acceptance of coaching.
  • ProblemsMessy comes with the territory. You know going in that there is a higher potential for the stuff that is messy (i.e., you will end up with HOST volunteers who are unmarried but live together, you'll have volunteers who not only aren't members but aren't Christ-followers, etc.). While there are definitely ways to mitigate many of the problems, they're still problems.

Raising the Bar in terms of who can lead:

  • Upside: You can have higher expectations in terms of a vetted leader's potential to make disciples. There is potentially less mess than the lower bar approach.
  • Problems: You will probably have trouble recruiting and vetting enough leaders to connect beyond a certain percentage of weekend adult attendees. Your recruiting will be limited to those candidates who are known by staff and key leaders or who are willing to respond to an invitation to enter the leader training program that you've initiated.

This is a challenge because once a church grows beyond several hundred adults it is increasingly less likely that the staff knows everyone. Additionally, since there are a large number of high capacity but unconnected adults in most growing churches, a higher bar often excludes many potential leaders.

Once a church grows beyond a couple hundred adults it is increasingly less likely that the staff knows everyone. Additionally, since there are a large number of high capacity but unconnected adults in most growing churches, a higher… Click To Tweet

See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #4: High Leader Entry Requirements Ensure Safety in the Flock.

I have a set of convictions and those convictions make it easy to choose the set of problems I'd rather have. What about you?

Image by Sangudo

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Connections Coordinator on April 25, 2012 at 6:06 am

    We opt for the higher bar system and yes this has created the dynamic of quality over quantity you might say. 

  2. Anonymous on April 25, 2012 at 6:14 am

    Thanks for jumping in here! In my experience, many churches choose to implement a higher bar. Still, many of those same churches wrestle with concerns over things like difficulty finding enough leaders and the inability to regularly increase the percentage of their weekend adult attendance in groups. Are you finding those problems?

  3. Chris Fields on April 26, 2012 at 6:36 am

    We who were novices at leading a small group ministry (now Community Groups) have struggled with this for a while.  We first determined our end goal which at that time were too many to fulfill.  We struggled with having new leaders and burning out existing leaders along with participation from the members. So we went back and looked at the goals. With prayer and the support of our church leadership we found that connecting people was the most important goal at the time. We changed our model from long term small groups to community groups on a semester basis. Wow what a response! We have new facilitators (not leaders) as well as doubled our community group  members last fall.  A few of our facilitators and group members have liked it so much they want to have long term groups. This fall we are praying about adding life groups which will return to a long term group (12-18 months) but  be intentional about discipling. The bar will be higher for those leaders. I think you can see the progression here. It has been an everchanging process and we are so thankful we have full support of our church leadership. I just had to respond to this article since we have been down that road. Your articles have been so helpful and the books you recommend have been invauluable to our ministry. Thank you for all that you do!

  4. Anonymous on April 26, 2012 at 6:41 am

    I love it! Thanks for jumping in here Chris! The idea of clearly understanding your goal and clarifying your objectives is so important. And I love the way you’re seeing different leadership expectations for different grouplife environments. Very good stuff.

    So glad the blog is helping you and your team. Thanks for participating here!


  5. Daffney on April 17, 2013 at 7:51 am

    Our church did a low bar–get into groups in the gym, take 5 minutes to get to know each other and choose a question asker (leader). We hardly had time to ask the important questions and mostly likely wouldn’t in a first time meeting,

    Many who’d joined were new due to a geographical relocation, but had been long time believers. We were hoping to be integrated into the church.

    The man who seemingly appointed himself as facilitator we learned the first week was
    living common law. The next week we learned she was pregnant too. Each week we hung on feeling we would “influence” these and be a mentor to them, but it ecame increasingly uncomfortable because they were blatant about their situation, showed no shame, and were disrespectful about marriage. He talked too much and tried to “teach” us in a dominating way.

    Each week something came out of them harder to accept, yet none of us felt it was appropriate to “set them straight”. They said they’d been believers for several years and prayed as such, but clearly overlooked this area. Does God hear the prayer of
    unrepentant people?

    I don’t think it’s right for the church to pretend he isn’t the group leader by calling him a question asker. Come on. He was the one reporting to the pastor, emailing us about meetings, leading the group–what else is a leader if not that? I think it was irresponsible of the leadership to plunk a bunch of us looking for a group into that situation to have to work out for ourselves. For new people it makes us wonder if it’s the kind of church we want to be in. It makes it seem the church accepts common law marriage.

    This verse came to my inbox Psalm 1:1 NASB How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!

    To me this man was a scoffer. There are other verses that warn a church of what to look for in a leader.

    I think the pastors could have asked anyone interested in leading a group to meet and then let the pastors ferret out people – just as kids who try out for sports have to go through the pain of rejection. Or, the existing groups should be split to bring in new people.

    I find it hard to believe finding leaders is as hard as you’ve made it out to be. Twice I signed up to teach Sunday School in churches and was told I wasn’t needed as they had too many. I couldn’t believe it.
    (We had job transferred a few times which meant changing churches. I needed to be in a position so I had something to do, so being rejected was very hard.)

  6. markchowell on April 17, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Thanks for jumping in here Daffney. That sounds like a bad experience! Sorry to hear that, but have seen a number of instances where churches “lower the bar” but don’t do it as prescribed. For example, the connection method many of us use involves an hour long conversation around a table, with carefully constructed questions, and each group member individually chooses who they’d be willing to follow for a 6 week testdrive. There are almost always 2 or 3 out of a group of 16 who are chosen.

    You should see in those two sentences that the man you ended up with wouldn’t be selected in my system. In addition, when they’re selected they are required to complete and turn in a questionnaire that asks a few questions designed to help us get to know them and find out what we’d need to know.

    Sad when it doesn’t happen that way. Sorry to hear about your experience.


  7. Daffney on April 17, 2013 at 8:38 am

    I think your method would have worked better, and my question is do the people select the leader anonymously? I found it awkward when the pastor in charge said, “Point to the person in your group you’d like to be question asker.” Of course my husband and I knew we could lead but being new and trying to be humble weren’t going to point to ourselves. A private ballot would have been better.

    To make matters worse, we expressed our situation to the pastor in charge in February. He said he would meet with the guy. Two weeks past and it hadn’t happened. The group finished the 6 weeks and we were hoping to continue but with a new leader. I’m not sure what the other groups did after the 6 weeks. I didn’t hear a next step announce.

    By mid-March I sent an email to follow up with the pastor and didn’t receive anything back.

    Finally a male member of our group will be meeting with the pastor next week. I’m sorry this took so much time to resolve. Basically we will not have been in a group for the last 2 months, and the group went from 13 at signup to 9 to 6. I’m not sure 6 is a good number when 2 are couples and if a couple or both have to miss that would leave it to 4 or even 2.

  8. markchowell on April 19, 2013 at 11:34 am

    With the right set up, it works fine to have people point to the person they’d be willing to follow, but it takes the right set up. You can see how I run a small group connection in my 5 part series right here: http://www.markhowelllive.com/?p=93

    Truly sorry to hear about your experience. Honestly, though, every step that I detail in the article series has been carefully designed. What you experienced has very little in common with the way a connection works for me.

  9. Joana on November 16, 2013 at 1:12 am

    I agree to a certain extent. Leading people with the proper foundation not to say a person needs to be perfect is important. Meaning Leading by example. Need to look at each individual case to make the decision. If a person desires to become a group leader, but is living an open sinful life, this would be a perfect opportunity to point out & encourage this person to seek a closer spiritual relationship with God so they can be more anointed and effective in their new ministry.

  10. Mark Howell on November 16, 2013 at 7:58 am

    Thanks for jumping in here Joana. You can see that every church will have their own comfort level and risk tolerance. The key in this to me is that many churches have set the bar so high that it excludes the upside by removing all risk (or at least the appearance of risk).