Bible trivia question: How many times during his earthly ministry did Jesus say, “Go make Bible studies” or “Hold small groups”?
The answer is…zero! (Gasp!)
Sometimes leaders need to be reminded of that—small groups are the means to an end, not an end unto themselves. Still, small groups are at the core of nearly ALL successful campus ministries. Whether called them life groups, discipleship groups, Bible studies or something else entirely, everyone has them, but not everyone understands why they have them.
When Jesus gave us the Great Commission, it wasn’t just an “Oh, by the way, before I forget,” message He tagged onto the end of His ministry. It was a clear, concise charge for every one of His followers to be involved in the pursuit of making disciples of Jesus Christ.
Small groups are just one avenue of fulfilling that charge. Discipleship is the primary goal; small groups are just a really convenient tool to make that happen. With that in mind, the purpose of small group ministry shouldn’t just be a deeper understanding of the Bible but a closer connection to God and the Church that leads to life transformation.
Small groups are a perfect format for that to happen. Jesus knew this; He had a small group of twelve disciples for a reason! A good small group ministry can facilitate life-changing decisions and relationships like nothing else can.
By this midway point in the semester, your campus ministry probably has some form of small groups underway. How can you make your small group ministry more effective? Whether you’ve been leading for years or are just starting out, here are eight tips to get you started. If you’re a ministry leader with small group leaders under you, be sure to pass these tips along to them!
One: Know what you’re about
Someone wise once said, “Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time.” They might very well have had small groups in mind. Without clear vision and purpose, they inevitably wander afield and fade out to nothing. Know the who, what, when, where and especially the why of your group. Make it specific, considering questions such as:
- Why do we exist?
- What will we study/do?
- What goals/outcomes do we want to come of our time together?
- How does this group serve to fulfill the Great Commission?
Pro Tip: Start at the finish and work backwards from there. If you know what you’re trying to do, it’s a short hop to the reason why you’re doing it.
Two: Have a plan
Having a plan actually is a good thing! Especially if you follow through with it. Develop a plan for every aspect of your small group. Write it down and share the information – there’s nothing wrong with being organized, no matter how hip being “organic” is. Make it detailed, answering questions such as:
- Who will open in prayer?
- Who will close?
- Is someone supposed to bring drinks?
- If there are audio/visual components, are they working and ready?
Pro Tip: Use a spreadsheet to aid your planning. Here is the one I use—feel free to make it your own.
Three: Face the window
Literally and figuratively. This is about avoiding distractions. If you are facing the window, your participants aren’t, and that’s one less distraction for everyone. Whether it’s whatever is going on outside the window, phones, or loud music coming from the room across the hall, seek to minimize distractions however you can so everyone can focus during the time you have together.
Pro Tip: Your beloved fur baby might be welcome at the start, but he/she needs to go somewhere out of the way during the actual meeting.
Four: Always have a snack
It doesn’t need to be a full meal; it doesn’t need to be fancy, and it shouldn’t be costly, but good things happen when people start munching together. Food was a prominent and welcome feature of Jesus’ ministry; take your cue from him. Something about eating together lowers people’s defenses. They’re more open and willing to share when there’s food around, and sharing is good, right? (Just nod your head yes if you aren’t sure).
Pro Tip: Ask everyone what their favorite snack is, then use that list when planning what to bring.
Five: Ask the right questions
Jesus asked questions all the time, and he was a pretty sharp guy, so again, take your cue from the Master. Questions are good, but some questions are better than others. Anything with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer (close-ended) is likely to get just that, yes or no and nothing further. If discussion is the goal, ask open-ended questions. Questions that begin with ‘what’ or ‘how,’ are much more likely to generate conversation. ‘Why’ questions can work but are often difficult to answer.
Pro Tip: You can draw out the overly quiet and quiet the overly talkative by asking some questions to particular individuals or by going around the room and having everyone answer certain questions.
Following up with people throughout the week used to mean leaving a message on their answering machine or hoping you ran into them on campus. Now, you can IM, text, tag and Snap your way into their life pretty much at will. The trick isn’t reaching them; it’s figuring out which platforms they actually use. Regardless, the idea of successfully leading a small group without contacting everyone once or twice during the rest of the week feels anathema to the end goal of the ministry: making disciples. Discipleship is about much more than a short weekly meeting. It doesn’t hurt to incorporate your strategy for follow-up in the plan you made earlier.
Pro Tip: If you want people to know that they really matter to you, don’t rely on group messages; contact people individually.
Seven: Share the load
You don’t have to do everything yourself – in fact, it’s better if you don’t. Let someone else pray. Let someone else lead the discussion. Let someone else bring the snacks. Let someone else…You get the picture. Small groups are better when there is a sense of community, and community requires responsibility and ownership. Empower your group by letting them be responsible for various aspects of group life. Bonus: you have an excuse to follow up with people with personalized reminders!
Pro Tip: Don’t be haphazard about it; map out opportunities to contribute as part of your plan and have proactive conversations accordingly.
Eight: Have an application point
Give them something to do each week. Honestly, coming up with practical application points to the teaching can sometimes feel impossible, but it’s still worth trying. The difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge is that heart knowledge has been tested in the forge of life experience.
Pro Tip: Make this something people share about throughout the week as a point of accountability.
What are your pro tips for leading small groups? Drop a comment below!