Regardless of how you minister to others, whether you’re on church staff or you volunteer in the kindergarten room, you’re probably in a small group of adults. You may even lead a small group of adults. If you are, this is for you.
People often come to small groups with a consumer mentality. They are looking for relationships, teaching, social opportunities, spiritual formation, therapy, or a connection. But a small group isn’t a commodity to be consumed; it’s a community to be formed. We don’t want people to simply consume but to contribute. We don’t want them to just attend but to participate. Responsibility and relationships are the two primary variables that determine whether a consumer will become a contributor and an attender will become participator. We want to create small group experiences where people miss it when they miss. And we want to create contributors who will be missed when they are gone.
The leader is not the only person who should have responsibility in the group. We need to create opportunities for everyone to serve. Here are three ways that can happen.
First, identify the gifts and passions within the people around the circle.
Everyone has a spiritual gift. Everyone is a member of the body of Christ with a unique role to play. When I was in college, I led a Bible study on what it meant to be the body of Christ. I talked about the important roles that God had created us to play and that we all needed each other. I talked about the role of the brain and the heart and the hands and feet and eyes and mouth and even the nervous system. Afterward, a rather timid freshman approached me and confessed: “I really enjoyed your teaching. But I just have a really hard time believing that I could be a part of the body of Christ. Or if I am, I must be a pretty insignificant part that doesn’t really do anything, like a nose hair. Maybe I’m just a nose hair in the body of Christ.”
At the time, I was a biological engineering major, so I went complete nerd on her and responded: “That’s great! Do you know how important the nose hairs are?! They stand on the front line of protecting the body from incoming germs and pathogens and bacteria. They are part of the body’s natural filtration system, protecting it from dirt and disease. You are helping the body of Christ stay healthy! If you are a nose hair, you be the best nose hair you can possibly be because we need you!” (I’m just glad she didn’t say she thought she might be an appendix because I don’t know what I would have done with that.)
Bring out a whiteboard and ask everyone in your group to share their gifts and abilities and passions. If people have a hard time owning it for themselves, encourage the group to share what they think others’ gifts and abilities are.
Second, connect the gifts and the passions of group members to the needs, responsibilities, and gaps within the group.
If someone is passionate about prayer, appoint them the prayer leader—to collect prayer requests, create systems to sustain prayer throughout the week, to give ideas about how to more effectively incorporate prayer into the group gathering. If someone is passionate about food or hospitality, ask them to coordinate snacks or think of creative ways to welcome newcomers. If there is a person who likes to play, enlist them to plan the group social calendar; if someone is gifted to serve, ask them to find ways the group can serve the community together. Find creative ways to give everyone a role to play and a responsibility to own.
Finally, make the big ask.
If you’re the leader, take the opportunity to tell a group member, “I see this unique gift in you. I believe God wants to use that to bless the group and to grow you personally. Would you consider filling the gap in our group by connecting your gift with this particular need? You will add value to the group.” Don’t assume they are too shy or too busy or too uncertain or too awkward or too much in a bad place. Never say someone’s “no” for them. It just might be one of the most fruitful and empowering discipleship conversations you have with them.
Move your group members from consumers to contributors. Give each person a role. Ask them to assume a responsibility. And then celebrate the way they add value to the group.
For more insight on how to lead adult small groups, check out Big Change, Small Groups by Heather Zempel.