Many potential leaders make the mistake of thinking that their success as a leader rests upon how well they perform certain tasks, like teaching a killer Bible study or answering vexing questions posed by group members. They believe bestselling leadership expert and former pastor John Maxwell’s famous maxim: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” But they are using the wrong measuring stick.
They are measuring leadership success by how they perform and what they do. Scholars often refer to the romance of leadership when discussing the role and impact of leaders on their organizations’ success. Years ago, management scholar Jim Meindl explained that many of us “hold the view that leadership is a central organizational process and the premier force in the scheme of organizational events and activities,” and thereby de-emphasize the contributions of other individuals, environments, or markets, and other contributors to organizational or group success.
This belief is a problem because sometimes leaders don’t matter as much as people think. Rebellious kids can come from the homes of great parents. Linebackers can commit bone- headed penalties and cause their well- led team to lose on the final drive of a game. People cheat on their spouses and their taxes, even in gospel-centered churches that clearly teach the entire Word of God. Certainly, leaders matter a lot, but so do the actions of those who follow them. These people make their own choices irrespective of their leaders. In fact, follow-up studies over the years have suggested that formal team leaders only account for 15 percent or so of a group’s performance. However, the merging of all team or organizational members’ contributions and how the entire group works cooperatively makes a much greater difference.
So not everything is in your control, but as a leader you are responsible for inviting and encouraging group members’ contributions and group- level cooperation. As Howie Hendricks aptly stated in the quote introducing this chapter, your leadership isn’t just about what you do, but what others do because of what you do. In other words, your leadership success can be judged by looking at the people you lead. What are they doing? Are their lives making an impact? Are they growing and being transformed? And more importantly, are their lives impacting the lives of others?
You can lead in a way that invites people—both within your group and outside of your group—to help your group become a place where people can grow into who God has designed them to be. When that happens, it’ll be for their good, their community’s good, and God’s glory. We want to teach you how to be the kind of catalytic group leader who profoundly impacts the people God has entrusted to your care.
If you want to be a next-level leader of a small group, you will:
- Clarify your group’s mission and relentlessly pursue it while holding at bay attempts to detract from it.
- Set the stage for community, discipleship, and mission, and then make sure you get out of the way of what God wants to do.
- Promote others in your group and encourage them to make the maximal contribution they can.
- Facilitate life- changing dialogue and discussions rather than dominating the group conversation.
- Set up and cultivate a group structure that best promotes your group’s engagement.
- Ask good questions and point group discussions back to accomplishing your group’s unique purpose.
- Not only take care of yourself but continue to sharpen your leadership and facilitation skill set to help your group grow.
- Release your iron grip on the reins of leadership, invite others to join you in leading, and then turn things over to them when they’re ready.
Now, this list may feel like a lot. It may seem like a high calling. Well, it is! You are critically important to your group, especially if you want members to move beyond superficial relationships and reviewing answers to the week’s Bible study. In fact, in our study, we found that a leader’s commitment to the group is one of the strongest predictors of a small group’s effectiveness. (We frame “effectiveness” as the extent to which a group experience positively contributes to the spiritual growth of the members of a group, and not just the spiritual health of members.)
This means two things. First, you can make a tremendous impact on your group simply by showing up. Second, if you want to be a leader whose leadership transforms others, you must be committed.
What makes this book different?
Leading Small Groups That Thrive provides a research- driven yet practical resource that group leaders can use immediately. The authors have integrated church-based research on small groups (hearing from over 800 small group members, not just leaders), in-depth academic knowledge of small group and team communication, practical examples based on visits they made to numerous small groups, and their own experiences leading small groups and small groups programs over decades. Learn more and order your copies today.