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Community Matters: The Role of Leadership in Transformational Groups

This is the second in a series of blog posts in which we are considering the relationship between the church’s practice of community and transformational small groups.

If community matters (and it does), leadership matters. Leaders can make or break a group. There’s been a trend in the past few years for some churches to develop small groups that are intentionally “leaderless.” These small groups are generally aimed at emphasizing connection, usually around some common interest. Some have some formation element in them; they may have a Bible study. But they are primarily all about connecting group members to each other.

It’s not my intent here to tackle all of the issues related to this recent trend, but simply to note that such groups often struggle to accomplish their intended purpose.

Small groups most often thrive when there is intentional leadership, especially when the leader or leaders give their small groups clear and purposeful direction. Small groups will live up to their function and purpose when they are led by leaders who not only understand that function and purpose, but facilitate the life of the community in concert with the function and purpose.
If community matters (and it does), leadership matters. Leaders make or break a group.

Leadership Matches

Having not only a good leader, but having the right kind of leader can make or break a group. Leaders should be matched to the specific function of the group. Not all leaders whose strength is in biblical studies and spiritual formation will be strong connectors. Not all leaders who strength is in social dynamics and connecting people will be teach or lead Bible studies well.

Putting leaders who don’t match up well with the function of the small group can wreck a small group. Unqualified and unprepared leaders can do a lot of damage to a small group (even if it is not readily apparent).

If the clearly articulated purpose of a church’s small group ministry is connection, with an emphasis on building relationships and friendships in the community, then that church is going to need small group leaders who find conversation easy and natural. You don’t want someone who prefers to be reclusive leading a group that is designed to foster engagement with people.

This doesn’t mean the other functions, formation and mission are ignored in the connection small group. A good leader, regardless of his strengths, will make sure that all of the group elements are present and occurring in the small group. That’s part and parcel to a leader providing the kind of direction and care for his group that leads to being spiritually healthy.

Matching Leadership Gifts to the Needs of the Groups

Our research shows the skills or gift sets of small group leaders greatly impact the culture and emphasis of the groups those leaders are leading. Those whose gifts are in the realm of teaching will positively affect spiritual formation and evangelism in the lives of their small groups. Those who are skilled in transparency, relationships and conflict resolution will lead groups that become proficient in connection. Those who have abilities and gifts in the area of evangelism will be matched with groups that desire the development of mission in their community.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.