Multiplying leaders in growth groups

swiss_army_knifeswiss_army_knifeswiss_army_knifeswiss_army_knifeWe’re forever feeling the desperate need for more leaders. The shortage of leaders to cope with the growing demand for new groups, the exit of leaders moving on for reasons of work or the like, people dropping out of leadership when their lives change due to relationships, the attrition of leaders who’ve been serving for years. These are all reasons that we keep banging the drum for more people to sign up as leaders. They’re all reasonable reasons, but they’re not THE reason we should be committed to multiplying leaders. There’s a better reason by far…

We want to keep spreading the great news of Jesus Christ, because this honours God and it leads to people’s lives being transformed.

God’s word changes people. It keeps reminding us that we are not at the centre of the universe – God is! He is number one. He deserves all honour and praise. God has given us the great news about Jesus Christ so as to rescue people from despair and darkness, and to bring them into life and hope. We want to keep multiplying leaders so as to keep this news in front of people. We want more and more people in groups being encouraged to honour God, to trust God, to live for God. We want our groups to grow together in the truth of God’s word, in love for one another, in prayerful dependence on God, and with a passion to see others reached with the good news of salvation. We want to equip leaders who are focused on doing their part in building God’s kingdom.

The maths we are looking for is multiplication. We don’t want to divide leaders, nor do we want to subtract them. But it’s not enough to simply add leaders either. Our goal is for leaders to grow leaders to grow leaders. If one leader grows one leader in one year, then we have two. If the two leaders grow one leader each in one year, then we have four. If the four leaders grow one leader each in one year, then we have eight. You see how it can work.

If only the first leader adds one leader each year, then in ten years you have eleven leaders. But if every leader adds one leader each year, then in ten years you have over one thousand leaders! This is the power of multiplication. Of course, this is an ideal world. It doesn’t allow for drop out, attrition, failure to train, poor systems, and everything else that gets in the way. But what potential and it all starts with just one leader.

If this is going to happen, then multiplication needs to be built into our DNA as churches. We should not only seek to add a leader, but to add a leader who will add a leader who will add a leader. We need to communicate a vision for multiplying leaders. When someone is recruited and trained as a leader, we should be calling them not simply to be a leader, but to be a recruiter and trainer of more leaders, who will do the same.

Jesus didn’t just call men to himself. He called men to call men (and women and children). The Apostle Paul didn’t simply call Timothy to succeed him. He called him to this continuing task…

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.  (2 Timothy 2:2)

Teasing this out, Paul is saying: ‘You Timothy (#2) take my words (#1) and entrust to reliable people (#3, #4, etc) who will do a good job teaching others (#5, #6, etc).’

Not counting the many witnesses, there are at least four generations, and six or more people, involved in this responsibility. Paul is looking to the future. This is his last letter. He’s nearing the end of his ministry and he’s passionate about the ministry of the gospel continuing. He wants the gospel to be protected and the way to protect it is by ensuring its faithful spread.

Perhaps you have heard the story of the Wollomi Pine. It was thought to be extinct, until a very small population of trees was found in the wild in NSW. The species needed to be protected, so what was the strategy? Fence off the small plantation to protect from outside influence? Would this ensure its survival? No. The plan to preserve the Wollomi Pine involved planting seeds everywhere. Nurseries, greenhouses, in the wild, wherever a patch of ground could be found. The key to its survival was its spread. It’s the same with the gospel. We guard it by passing it on to others who will keep doing the same.

What does this mean for our growth group leaders? It means we seek to keep growing leaders, not to meet our needs, but to guard the gospel, to honour God, and to see people’s lives transformed for eternity. So how do we do it?

Leaders on the look out

We want all our growth group leaders to be on the look out for more leaders. Sometimes we might see ready-made leaders just waiting for an opportunity to be asked or step up. This can happen due to people changing churches or being trained in another ministry, such as a university group, but not yet serving as a leader at church. However, more importantly, we should be looking for opportunities to grow new leaders, so as to keep multiplying.

There are a few things to look for in seeking out suitable people. I suggest looking for FAST people. Such people are faithful, available, sacrificial, and teachable. They show their commitment to the group by turning up each week. They do more than turn up. They’re seeking ways to serve others, following up people during the week, asking about answers to prayer. You’ll find them in the kitchen doing the dishes. They go out of their way to offer lifts to others. They show restraint in Bible study, not dominating the discussion, but contributing thoughtfully. They offer to lead a study here and there and ask for feedback and help. They look for ways to serve at church or in the group and they’re open to being trained.

Connecting with core people

Having identified potential leaders, we need to invest in them. Engage them in thinking about leadership and give them opportunities to grow. If there are one or two people in the group who could fill this role, then we suggest talking with them. Excite them about the potential to become leaders a little way down the track. Spend extra time with these people. Perhaps have them for a meal before the group now and then, or catch up for a coffee. You could talk together about how the group is going and how they could take a role in preparing to lead. You could pray for the members of your group. Maybe they could meet one to one with someone else in the group to pray and read the Bible. They could take a responsibility for some organisational role in the group such as coordinating meals, or sending out prayer points. It will help to give them opportunity to lead some studies or coordinate the prayer times. If they’re inexperienced at leading studies, then you could meet with them to help and provide suggestions and support. Give them helpful encouragement and feedback afterwards. Remember, you want to build leaders, not cut people down. So be thoughtful and considerate.

Apprenticing leaders

We want to encourage all our group leaders to seek to identify and purposefully get alongside one or more others in their group each year for the purpose of multiplying leaders. Some churches describe this process in an official or organised manner as ‘apprenticing leaders’. This is what we want to be doing, whether it’s ad hoc, informal, formal, or whatever. The apprenticing strategy has great strengths. It’s on-the-job, highly relational, contextual, personally targeted, intensive training. The apprentice gets to learn from the practitioner by becoming a practitioner also.

This can also reveal a weakness of apprenticeship training. It depends very much on the quality of the trainer. If the current leader sets a poor example, fails to invest time, neglects their leadership responsibilities, or has a maverick attitude to leading in the church, then these problems can sometimes be reproduced down the line. For this and other reasons, we recommend complementing the apprenticeship approach with a training course.

Training courses

Most training courses begin with a curriculum to be transferred to the participants. The key is to identify what should be in the core curriculum for growth group leaders. Two courses stand out in our experience. Both are reviewed on this site: Growth Groups and Spice it Up. Growth Groups is the longer and more detailed of the two courses. Spice it Up is briefer, but seeks to incorporate wisdom from both Growth Groups and Leading Better Bible StudiesOver the years many of our training courses have drawn on material from these and other sources.

These courses rightly focus mainly on the preparation and leading of Bible studies as the core component in the life of the group. We believe the emphasis should be here, because this is how God changes our hearts. However, we desire our growth groups to be contexts of prayer, pastoral care, every member ministry, promoting the gospel, training, supporting the church, and more. For this reason, a tailored training program that addresses the range of growth group issues is required.

We suggest that a course be conducted at least once a year, with sufficient time to prepare new leaders to begin leading in the year ahead. Third term seems ideal for this. We can build on the apprenticing work that has begun in the earlier part of the year, and give opportunities to put things into practice in the later part of the year. The hope will be that trained people will go on to become leaders, but this should never be assumed. We may discover that some people are not suited to serve in this way.

Multiplying groups

If we are going to multiply, or even add, groups in our churches, then this will require leaders to move from one group to another. There are a number of possible approaches:

  • groups disband at the end of the year and an increased number of groups begin in the new year, incorporating new leaders
  • some leaders are kept back from groups at the start of the year, so as to lead groups as needed later in the year
  • apprentice leaders take over the leadership of the group they belong to, while the existing leaders leave to start another
  • newly trained or apprentice leaders leave a group to start another group
  • the group divides into two with newly trained or apprentice leaders taking one half and the existing leaders the other

There are strengths and weaknesses with all these approaches. Disruption to relationships and the welfare of existing groups should be avoided where possible, but we will need to prepare for some discomfort if we are going to keep growing the growth groups ministry. Good communication, no surprises, sufficient time and preparation for change will all help.

Not just groups

The strategy of multiplying leaders is not just for our growth group ministry. Our goal is for every area of service within the church to embrace the culture of multiplication. Let’s keep training and equipping one another to build the church of Jesus Christ through evangelism and edification, for the sake of God’s glory.

Who could you get alongside to equip for ministry? How can you pass on what you’re doing to others? Not doing much? Then whom could you ask to train and equip you?

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