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Book Study: Lead Small, Week 1

by Elle Campbell

For the next four weeks, we’re going to be taking a look at the book Lead Small, by Reggie Joiner and Tom Shefchunas. I am so excited to walk through this book with you. If you and I are already friends, then you might already know that I am completely obsessed with this book. Not kidding. And if you didn’t know that about me already, well, you’re about to find out.

But, before we dive in, let me tell you a little bit about my story.

I grew up going to church. I was there every Sunday morning (and most Sunday nights), every Wednesday night, for weekend retreats, special events, lock-ins, and camps, and . . . you get the picture.

But, even though I’ve spent my entire life immersed in the church, there is one thing I never experienced: a consistent Small Group Leader (or any adult, really) who wanted to invest in me.

Because this idea of a consistent Small Group Leader had never been modeled for me, I didn’t really know what I was missing. But, then, when I was in 11th Grade, a few things happened.

First, I realized I wanted to start mentoring and investing in some younger girls in a meaningful way. So, I signed up to be a Small Group Leader in our Middle School Ministry. Then, I was promptly given 30 fifth-grade girls (some “Small” Group, huh?). And then . . . my church hired a new youth pastor.

The New Guy came in with lots of crazy ideas, like—

  • “Hey, let’s make Small Groups a really big deal!”
  • “Let’s have Small Group Leaders stay with their group of students for several years, instead of ditching them every year for a new group of kids.”
  • “What if Small Group Leaders started investing in their Small Group outside of church, too?”
  • And, “Small Group Leaders, I want you to think of yourselves as the youth pastors of your Small Group.”

Of course, this rocked a few boats. That usually happens when things change in an organization. Some people were intrigued. Some were hesitant. Others were flat-out angry.

But as a 17-year-old brand new Small Group Leader with 30 precious little 5th-grade girls in my care, I don’t think I had ever heard anything more exciting. This Small Group Leader thing wasn’t just a glorified babysitting job with some Jesus thrown in. This was a serious investment! This was a long-term commitment! I could make a significant difference in the lives of my few! I was so pumped.

And just like that, I was hooked.

I finished 5th grade with my girls. Then I moved up into 6th, 7th, and 8th grade with them. Then I thought about letting them move on into high school while I took a new 5th-grade group. But they hated that idea. So, I stayed with them through 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade, too.

Over the years, our church recruited more volunteers and our group of 30 got a lot smaller (thankfully). We lost some girls, and we added some more, but our group has maintained a consistent core of girls for almost ten years now. And writing that sentence just made me feel . . . so . . . old.

My girls just began their sophomore year of college last month. And, although I’m not “officially” their Small Group Leader anymore, they come to my house every Thursday night for book studies and heart-to-hearts and potlucks and movies. They are wonderful girls. They’re strong, talented, authentic, so smart, and they’re following hard after Jesus. Oh, and they’re all serving as middle school Small Group Leaders now, too.

I tell you all this because it’s this part of my story that has made me so passionate about Small Group Leaders. I’ve been a Small Group Leader and, now that I work at the church where I grew up, I get to lead Small Group Leaders, too.

One of my favorite things in the world is thinking about how to better train, equip, lead, and encourage Small Group Leaders to “be more awesome,” as Kid President would say.

Which brings me to this Lead Small book study. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: this book is the best resource I have ever seen on leading a Small Group. It’s helped me be a better Small Group Leader, and it’s helped me be a better leader of my team of Small Group Leaders. My only complaint is that it didn’t exist sooner.

So if you haven’t read it yet, just get ready. It will be awesome.

Grab your copy. Open it up to the very beginning.

And let’s get started.

Reggie and Tom begin Lead Small with a reminder of why they think Small Group Leaders are such a big deal: because we’re in the midst of a crisis.

All the statistics show that at least half of teenagers and college students who grow up in church will walk away from their faith. But that’s where Small Group Leaders come in. Because, if our students are going to build the kind of faith that lasts, they need people in their lives who will help them build it.

As ministry leaders, it’s so important for us to keep this in perspective: our goal isn’t to build a great Small Group ministry. Our goal is to help kids build authentic faith. And Small Group Leaders are a great way to make that happen.

“We want them to have a really BIG faith—an authentic faith.
And the only way you can cultivate authentic faith is through leading SMALL,” (p. 15).

As a Small Group Leader and, now, someone who leads Small Group Leaders, I can tell you firsthand that it is really hard to explain what exactly a Small Group Leader is and does. The ideal Small Group Leader is a unique combination of teacher, friend, coach, mentor, and maybe even a little bit of a parent, too. The role of an SGL is unlike anything else, which can make it a little difficult to describe and even more difficult to teach and train.

For years, I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to communicate what being a great SGL looks like. I’ve come up with my own definitions, told a lot of stories, given my SGLs some books to read, and made a list of the “essentials” of Small Group leading (and then remade that list a few times).

And then Lead Small came into existence. And I rejoiced. Because, suddenly, I had the definition I had been looking for:

A Small Group Leader is “anyone who chooses to invest in the lives of a few to encourage authentic faith.” And to make that happen, a great Small Group Leader does five things:

  1. Be present.
  2. Create a safe place.
  3. Partner with parents.
  4. Make it personal.
  5. Move them out.

In the next three weeks, we’re going to spend some time hashing out what each of these principles looks like. And I can’t wait. So get ready, and I’ll see you back here next week!

Elle works in middle school ministry with her husband, Kenny, at The Chapel in Buffalo, New York, where she oversees Small Groups and volunteer development. When Elle isn’t hanging out with middle school students and their Small Group Leaders, she’s blogging and developing resources for Stuff You Can Use—a site she and Kenny developed to connect student and children’s ministry workers with super helpful, practical, and high-quality ideas and resources.

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