How to lead a small group
Small groups are a relatively recent phenomenon in Catholic parishes. Yet in Protestant churches gathering in small groups are a normal occurrence. Parish renewal groups such as Rebuilt and Forming Intentional Disciplesemphasize small groups. They see small groups a way of establishing a community. I served on the board in charge of discussing small groups. This made me realize that Catholics don’t understand the point of small groups.
What are small groups
A small group consists of 6-10 people, who hold each other accountable. Here’s what a small group is not:
- a bible study
- a book club
- a place to go deeper in theology
While I love all those activities, none of those actives by themselves make a small group. Rather, a small group shares life together. They usually began with a meal and prayer. After that, they have no real agenda. The group might do Lectio divina, or watch a video. You should get to the point where you do not need a program. A program should be a jumping off point for relational ministry. Getting through all the questions is not the goal of a small group.
I have been a small group leader for youth, young adults, and adults. I know a thing or two about leading small groups. Below are 5 tips for being a good small group leader.
Tips To Be A Small Group Leader
1. Same page
You want to make sure your leader and co-leader are on the same page. This means you need to talk about expectations. Questions that need to be discussed include:
- will there be food and who’s bringing it
- how often will we meet
- what will we be discussing
- will attendance be required
If the leaders are not on the same page, then the members will not know what to expect. Likewise, this makes members confused and less likely to come back.
2. Introduce People
Your job as facilitator is to help people enter into a relationship with each other. Thus, you need to facilitate interaction. The first couple of times you meet, you want to have a good ice breaker. Later on, you may want to collect birthdays and contact info. You can send encouragement and prayer to those you think might need it. You can encourage others to do the same.
3. Spiritual Introduction
We all come from different backgrounds, cultures, and ways of life. Some people in the group may have an active prayer life. Others still struggle with accepting Jesus as the son of God. St Paul talks about this in 1st Corinthians 3:1-3a
”But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even yet you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh. 1st Corinthians 3:1-3a (RSV Second Catholic edition)
Until everyone agrees to be on the same page spiritually, the group dynamics will not work. Thus as a facilitator, you must make sure that everyone is ready to go deeper. It is better to start too basic and then get complex.
4. Delegate Responsibility
One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is a failure to delegate responsibility. Yet the group will die if nobody takes responsibility and the leader ends up leaving. I had this happen to one of my young adult groups. I had given roles, which people had reluctantly taken, but I failed to invest in those roles. When I moved to Connecticut for three months, the group died. People contribute to groups that matter to them and when they feel the can contribute.
5 . Plan with other groups
One thing I miss about Protestant churches is how small groups became large. Currently, I am a leader of a young adult small group at a local parish. At the introductory meeting, the young adult leader shared his vision. He envisioned having multiple groups throughout Hampton Roads. This was last year. Our group still meets bi-monthly. Yet we have never interacted with another group. It makes us feel disconnected and unsupported. In my Protestant church, we would meet weekly in a small group. Yet once a month all the small groups would get together. We would grab wings or go bowling. It helped remind us that we were a part of a much larger community.
I would like to see the local parish eventually figure this whole small group thing out. The relationships I have formed in those small groups have been valuable to my spiritual formation.