About ten years ago, we had a group that had grown to the point of multiplying. As I was praying about the future of that group and how we could help it through its growth and transition, I sensed that the Lord was leading us to wait. During that time, we realized that our approach to group leadership put a lot of pressure on ONE person to be all things to the group. Of course, we had leaders in training (Interns, Apprentices) just like we see in all of the small group books. Of course we had a plan for developing new leaders. But when push came to shove, all the pressure fell on one person. And usually, week-after-week, no matter how hard we involved others, the rest of the group looked to that one person to do 80% of the work.
As a result, we experimented with co-leaders. I had not seen much at that point about leading groups this way. The common logic was and is that if you have co-leaders you will only have 1/2 as many groups. In fact, pastors often responded to me with this argument when I shared this experiment with them. Based on that experiment and follow up work through the years, I am all the more convinced of the need for team (2-4 people) group leadership if the group wants to move beyond that of a connecting group and enter into a missional community. Here’s why:
- Solo leadership requires one person to be good at all of the things that good small group leaders do. For instance, when I looked at all of the characteristics, traits, habits, etc. of great group leaders (Click here for a post on this subject), I realized that I’m not very good at many of them. I’m not good at creating a hospitable environment. I’m not great at inviting new people. Nor am I very good at contacting people and being pastoral. If you were to look at my gifts, they would fall into the teacher/prophet gifting. I’ve always struggled with some of the basic things that are required to lead groups well. But I’ve found others who were good at them, but not at some of my areas of strength. When leadership is team based, strengths and giftings are emphasized and people receive the ministry better.
- Solo leadership can entrap the leader into a task focus. Caring for and leading a group of people includes a lot of practical things. When the leadership is shared, the focus can be on the people because the tasks are shared.
- Solo leadership most often means that the focus will lie on a Bible study or a video curriculum in the group meetings. The rest of the group will show up waiting for the solo leader to guide them. And in my experience, the solo leader has to depend upon curriculum to lead them through the meeting. This is not completely horrible, but why do we settle for it. I want groups that experience the presence of Jesus, not good curriculum. (More on this in Practice #5). If you have 2-4 people who work as a team and show up to the meeting expecting to hear God and follow the Spirit’s leading the rest of the group will be much more likely to join in.
- Solo leadership can put people on a fast-track to ministry burnout. I remember when I first started leading a group and I felt guilty for taking a vacation. This is the reason that Michael Mack wrote the very helpful guide called Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership. It is one of the most helpful guide for effective group leadership because it shows people how to work as a team.
Team leadership not only addresses these issues, but it also provides an opportunity for a group to enter into an entirely different way of doing life together. When a team works together, it sets a tone for the rest of the group. It gives space for people to step up and contribute because they see this happening with in how the leadership operates. If creates safety for people make mistakes as they learn how to minister to others. It tears down the leader verses group member divide that is a residual of the clergy verses laity divide.
In addition, it empowers the group to be creative about how it will engage people outside the group on mission. Solo leader groups often struggle to survive. The leader spends a lot of energy just getting the group to show up and connect. But with a team, there will be more ownership of the vision and therefore more space for the group to get involved with what God is doing outside the group.
For most people, this view of team leadership and shared contribution by the entire group is different. They need a way to catch this idea without having it forced down their throat. For this purpose, I wrote a free five-week small group study guide called The Journey Together. (Click here to download it.)