Think about how you came to know Christ, or how you have grown in your faith. You are who you are today because someone knew you by name and invested in you personally. Whether it was your parents, friends, or perhaps a pastor or life group leader, more than likely God has used one or more people to make a tremendous difference in your life.
Leading a life group gives you the opportunity to invest—and perhaps make the same sort of impact—in someone else’s life!
While most churches hold large-group worship services, these events aren’t designed for personal interaction, and it can be difficult to develop close personal relationships. Which is why life groups can be so valuable. Remember Jesus’ words:
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
The focus of the Great Commission is to make disciples, or followers of Jesus. How does one do this? By teaching them to observe (or obey) everything that He had taught. And often, one of the best ways to do this is through a life group!
WHO CAN LEAD A LIFE GROUP?
All types of people can be effective life group leaders. God has an amazing way of using a variety of people to accomplish His goals. We often think it takes a great teacher or dynamic leader to lead a life group. While this sort of person may indeed be a good leader, the old adage that God is more interested in availability than ability remains true. And as you trust Him to work through you, (focusing on His power as opposed to your weaknesses) you will see fruit.
And be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking you need to be a Biblical scholar to lead a life group. You may wonder, “But what if they ask me a question and I don’t know the answer . . ?” When (not if ) that does happen, simply reply that you don’t know, and that you will ask somebody that does. It is that simple.
Important Note: People who regularly communicate their faith in Christ to others often see their groups grow quickly.
PREPARING YOURSELF FOR LEADERSHIP
Remember, the goal is not to the life group in and of itself. The ultimate objective is to trust God to change peoples’ lives. In Colossians 1:28-29 Paul emphatically stated: “And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”
PRAYER: THE CORE OF LEADERSHIP
It is foolishness to lead a life group apart from divine assistance. God is the One who changes lives, so obviously He must lead in the process. Only God can bring the people to your life group, develop character, and knit hearts together.
Prayer is the starting point for such work, for it is God who chisels away and causes us to grow. Paul wrote, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God makes it grow” (I Cor. 3:6).
Too often, prayer is the last thing we consider when planning and preparing for our life group. We tack on a last minute, all-encompassing prayer asking God to bless well-made plans. Instead, we need to declare our dependence upon the Most High God at the onset and seek His will every step of the way. In an article for Discipleship Journal entitled “Engaging the Unseen Foe,” Jerry Bridges describes prayer as warfare with a defeated but still powerful enemy. He goes on to say:
“There are three military terms that I feel illustrate various types of prayer: strategic, tactical, and logistical. Strategic refers to the ultimate objective—to defeat the enemy—and the overall plan, or strategy, to bring him into submission. Tactical means the specific battles necessary to achieve the ultimate objective. Logistical is simply supplying the physical needs of the army fighting the battle...
I believe that 75 to 80 percent of our prayer is for logistical items. For that sick person in the hospital. For the one who lost his job. But those things are almost all we pray about. I would guess that 15 to 20 percent of our prayer effort is tactical, related to specific engagement with the enemy... [ed. note: For example, praying for the results of your life group is a tactical prayer.]
Very little of our prayer effort is strategic, or focused on our ultimate objective— the battle that God is really interested in. We need to remember that when we pray, we are entering into spiritual warfare. We are engaging a defeated but still powerful enemy: Satan, our unseen foe.”
QUALIFICATIONS FOR LIFE GROUP LEADERS
Do you have to be on the same maturity level as Christ to lead? No! Perfection is not a requirement. If it were, none of us could lead a life group. Growing into maturity is a continual process. The following “Heart Attitudes” will help keep your attitudes in check as a leader. Do you have them? Do you have the desire to...
- Serve rather than be served? Phil. 2:3-11
- Follow spiritual leadership within scriptural guidelines? Heb. 13:17
- Honor your word? Matt. 12:33-37
THE ROLE OF RELATIONSHIPS AND EVANGELISM
Tom Wolf, in his article “Oikos Evangelism: A Biblical Pattern,” describes the New Testament pattern for evangelism and growth of the church. Oikos is the Greek word translated ‘household’ throughout the book of Acts (Acts 10:2, 24, 27; 11:14; 16:31), and is defined as “one’s circle of influence composed of family, neighbors, coworkers, and friends.” Everyone has an oikos (a circle of influence), and it is the natural pathway through which the Gospel will spread.
Take a few minutes to analyze your oikos (circle of influence). If most of your relationships are with co-workers, start there. The fundamental idea is to start with your most significant relationships.
Use the space below to write down the people who make up your oikos (circle of influence). Ask God to help you talk about Christ to those most appropriate for you to initiate with. Identify three people in each of these areas of your oikos (circle of influence):
Coworkers / Classmates
As you pray for people in your oikos (circle of influence), and initiate conversations with them, you will see God use you in new ways. Some of the people listed above should be the first ones you invite to be a part of your life group. You may also want to ask members of your group to do this exercise to help them identify whom they can bring with them.
FOCUS ON MEETING THE NEEDS OF PEOPLE
Many life group leaders fail to recognize that the purpose of meeting together is not to simply exchange information. The goal is to live the Christian faith, not just talk about the Christian faith. As you get together in your group, look for things that will alert you to their individual needs, so you will be able to better serve them.
Use the following questions to help you determine what you will cover during your life group meetings:
- What strengths do they have? Where do they need growth? What do they not understand?
- What principles, or topics, would benefit them most at this stage in their Christian walk?
- What are their crucial needs? Do they comprehend the foundations of their faith (e.g., salvation, forgiveness, and how to study God’s Word). Are they sharing Christ with others?
Don’t “wing” your life group meetings. Leaders who don’t plan give themselves more stress and hinder the group’s growth. A leader may stimulate a great discussion, but he or she needs a deliberate plan to discuss and apply Biblical content.
SIZE RANGE FOR AN EFFECTIVE LIFE GROUP
A life group needs to have at least three people in it. But when does a life group become a large one? The answer to that varies, but here are some important characteristics of a life group:
- Everyone is able to participate
- Teaching is usually done through a dialogue
- People listen and help each other
When a group involves ten or more students it becomes difficult to manage effectively. So what do you do if your group gets this large? Read on.
MULTIPLICATION, APPRENTICES, AND CO-LEADERS
The Apostle Paul was skilled at developing leaders to continue the work of ministry. His words reveal the priority he placed on developing other leaders: “And these things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others.” II Timothy 2:2
In light of this verse, it is wise to have a co-leader that you work with, or an apprentice who can learn from you.
Your prayer should be that your life group would grow to the point that you need to divide into two groups, with your co-leader or apprentice taking on the new group. Remember this key point: as your group stops growing on all fronts, it moves closer to reaching the point of ending.
DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS
In general, aim to meet for at least an hour but for no more than two. Honor your time commitments about when you will end. People have other things to do, and you should avoid (at all costs) becoming the ‘on- and-on-and-on group.’
INVITING PEOPLE TO THE FIRST MEETING
First impressions are critical. When people walk into a life group setting for the first time, they often ask three questions (usually subconsciously): Do I like these people? Do these people like me? And, Do I like what this group is about? Work hard to ensure they will have a positive response to at least the last two questions (the first one is beyond your control).
If you are inviting people from your oikos (circle of influence), be clear about what you will be discussing. Do not mislead them into thinking that you will just be hanging out and then out of the blue pull out a Bible and say, ‘Hey let’s all look at the Bible...’ It will probably be the last time you see them there.
If you are inviting people that you do not personally know, introduce yourself and let them know how you got their name and number. Don’t jump into the business of the life group too quickly.
TIME TO PREPARE
PREPARING EVERYTHING BUT THE CONTENT
Sometimes we think, “I’ve prepared the passage, I’m ready to go.” Yet there is more to leading a successful life group than content alone. Your job as the leader is to cultivate an environment where relationships will grow between you, the group members, and God.
Icebreakers can help the group open up and get them in the mood to study the Word. Choose one that will lead you into your discussion in that day’s study or one just for fun. Pick one that will help the group to get to know one another. Never underestimate the value of this part of the study.
HERE ARE A FEW IDEAS FOR STARTERS.
- Describe your week using a movie title, and explain why.
- A personal scavenger hunt—take five minutes and find the following items in your wallet or purse: Something that ... a. you have had for a long time b. you’re proud of. c. reveals a lot about you. d. reminds you of a fun time. e. concerns or worries you.
- The first time I left home I ...
- Your house is on fire, and everyone is safe. You have thirty seconds to run through the house and collect 3 or 4 articles you want to save. What would you grab? Why? After everyone has done this, the group can discuss what they learned about the things they value.
Prayer can be a barrier in a life group or it can be the glue. Intimate things are shared in a prayer time, and can draw people together. On the other hand prayer can be a hurdle for the young believer. Feeling pressure (even if it isn’t there) to pray out loud when you have never done so can cause a person to not want to return to a study. The comment here is to be sensitive, teach young believers to pray in short sentences, and don’t ever force anyone to pray.
Snacks are a nice addition to a study. Don’t let them prevent you from thoroughly preparing your content. If they become a hindrance, buy them or skip them or better yet involve others in the group in the responsibility!
COUNTDOWN TO KICKOFF
Here is the scenario: The life group meeting time is set for 7 p.m., Monday nights. Seven people are on their way to meet you. Some of them you have met face to face, others you have talked to on the phone, and at least one you have never met.
ONE WEEK OR MORE PRIOR TO THE FIRST MEETING
1. Make sure all group members have been contacted and know when, where, what time, and a little of what they can expect from the group. Is there anyone you are forgetting? Remind them to bring a Bible. (Consider bringing extras for people to borrow.)
2. Prepare the content of your lesson. Do the lesson yourself. In the first meeting, focus on building relationships. That is not an excuse to minimize the Scriptures, but be sensitive to the group not knowing each other and give them the chance to find out things about one another.
3. Prepare to lead or guide the lesson. It is one thing to do the lesson yourself; it is another thing to lead it. Think about how your group might discover the truths for themselves. Add some of your own follow up questions. Ask yourself what areas of the lesson may be new to the group members and how can you help them with anything that might be confusing.
4. Pray for those coming. Ask God for wisdom in how He wants to work in their lives.
TWO DAYS PRIOR TO YOUR LIFE GROUP
1. Call group members to remind them of the time and place. Be sure to let them know you are glad they are coming. Make sure they have your phone number.
2. Plan a good ice breaker. Don’t just assume relationships will be built. Plan for it with good ice breakers. An ice breaker is something that gets each group member talking and sharing early on.
3. Think through announcements you need to make. What are the up coming events you want them to know about: The tailgater before the football game, the 70’s party in two weeks, or the fall retreat in late October.
4. Plan the specifics for your meeting. You have 90 minutes to build relationships, cover content, make announcements, and pray. What portion of the 90 minutes do you want to spend on each area? Different weeks—and different levels of spiritual maturity among members—will dictate different amounts of time. Be wise!
5. Pick up some refreshments. The first few weeks can be awkward as people get to know one another. There is nothing like a good snack to get people comfortable, loosened up and talking. Make it easy on yourself and buy something prepared. You don’t want baking a batch of cookies to keep you from walking into that group ready to go.
THIRTY MINUTES BEFORE GROUP TIME
It is 6:30 the day of your study. What can you do to ensure a smooth start?
1. Be there early to review lesson.
2. Welcome members without being distracted.
3. Pray and seek the Lord.
4. Turn off phones to reduce distractions.
5. Make sure there are plenty of comfortable seats. 6. Set snacks out.
CONDUCTING YOUR FIRST MEETING
It is 7 p.m. Time to get things started. Begin by introducing people to one another. Don’t delay. Get things going. Start with your icebreaker and then transition into your study. Be sure to end promptly.
AFTER THE FIRST MEETING
1. Call and ask them how things are going. Ask them specifics about things they shared in the group.
2. Serve them. If someone in the group expressed a need, try to meet it.
3. Do something fun. Meet them for lunch or meet them at a Starbucks.
PLAN THE SEMESTER
You will want your content to have continuity and yet you will want each lesson to be able to stand alone should you have a visitor. You do not want to discourage your group by making them feel lost just because they were not able to make last week’s meeting. At the same time, there is nothing like having a theme or a topic for several weeks in a row.
ONE FINAL THOUGHT
Remember that the goal of leading a life group is changed lives. How does God usually do this? “Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” I Thessalonians 2:8.
It is easy to meet simply to discuss information with others, but this is not the goal. You must impart yourself. This means getting your hands dirty in peoples’ lives. For some practical ideas on loving your oikos, check out Appendix C. May God bless your labor. May it be to His glory and His glory alone.
APPENDIX A: CREATIVE ICE BREAKERS
1. What room was the center of warmth in your home? Describe your relationship with your parents. How would they show their love to you?
2. What is your favorite way of spending your spare time?
3. When did God become more than just a word to you?
4. Describe a time when you have felt close to God?
5. What makes you feel loved? What makes you cry?
6. What characteristic in a person irritates you and why?
7. What kind of vehicle would you like to drive if cost were not a factor?
8. What would you like to be said at your funeral?
9. What were your best and worse moments this week?
10. Chart your life. (Give each of them a piece of paper and have then “chart their life” to use as a visual aid in telling their story.)
APPENDIX B: EVALUATE YOUR MEETING
1. Did everyone show up? Why didn’t some people come?
2. Were you prepared?
3. Did you have an attitude of expectancy? Were you prepared if you had someone extra show up?
4. Did you set a warm atmosphere?
5. What adjustments need to be made? Better lighting?
APPENDIX C: LOVING YOUR OIKOS (circle of influence)
1. Pray for your oikos (circle of influence).
2. Love your oikos (circle of influence).
- Notes / Calls... surprise them.
- Unexpected gift, candy bar, baked goods, etc.
- Help according to their need — run errands, moving furniture, drive them to the store for food, invite them over for dinner.
- Ask how you can pray for them.
- Give your phone number for emergencies.
- See a need. Meet it.
- Let them borrow some of your CD’s or videos.
- Remember birthdays with cards or small gifts.
- Go to the gym and work out together.
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