where we put our chips

Last weekend, I had the chance to attend my church’s small group leader training (for the small groups throughout our congregation). It reminded me how important I feel the training of small group leaders really is.

In fact, if you need a suggestion on where to put a lot of your “chips,” I’d put them right there. I’d spend time, energy, effort, and excellence in the training of those who lead your college ministry’s small groups. (This post assumes, of course, that your campus ministry has small groups as a major part of its strategy. Most do, but there are complementary models, for instance, that might not.)

In all my own experience serving within and overseeing college ministries, as well as my observations of hundreds of college ministries around the country, this is an area we could probably improve in.

Some beliefs:

  1. There are real small group leadership skills that can be learned.
  2. For most people, training is required to lead small groups well. And if I must say it even more boldly, I can: If you aren’t putting effort into training small group leaders, your small groups aren’t being led well.
  3. Being a strong Christian collegian or adult volunteer does NOT automatically impart small group leadership skill.
  4. Having good small group materials is not the same as being trained.
  5. For most college ministries, this is the most direct level of discipleship most students will experience. It’s the front lines, in other words.

If you need something to take greater priority – even if it means sacrificing other areas – this is an area to consider. Train your small group leaders well, and you’ll be changing your ministry (and your campus) before you know it.


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  1. Couldn’t agree more Benson. Very well written – love the list of beliefs. Each one is gold – so true.

    For our ministry, success = students in Bible Studies (because that’s usually our best indicator that life change is taking place). So a precursor to that would be getting as many people to lead Bible Studies as possible and then, as you said, training them well.

    I’m definitely going to use that list of beliefs and raise this idea with my staff team in the coming weeks.

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  3. Good thought Tim – thanks for that. I definitely agree that raising up leaders is bigtime important, too, with a couple of caveats. (And you’re not implying that either of these aren’t things you’re doing – your note just made me think of them.)

    1. I’m a firm believer in having a spiritual baseline for those who lead, including leading / facilitating small groups. This is certainly one of the areas some college ministers would disagree with me. But personally, I don’t believe spiritual “potential” is a qualification for leadership, only a proven track record of following the Lord. So if that means I only have 2 “small” groups (or none), then so be it.

    But that’s about spiritual qualification, not skill. I have no idea if Cru has nationwide standards in this area, or if it’s up to the individual ministers.

    2. As for skill, I figure there’s a wise balance somewhere between quality and quantity here. Would I rather have a bunch of groups of 4 people each led by so-so leaders, or groups of 10 led by really strong small group leaders? Probably the latter, especially because I think being a strong small group leader includes a willingness to connect with your members outside, disciple one-on-one when there’s the opportunity, etc.

    But what about 15 per group? Or 20? That’s where the wisdom comes in, because as long as a student fits #1 above, I don’t have any biblical problem with them leading. At the same time, I want the students they’re leading to be best-impacted.

    Still, I would probably err on the side of raising up (spiritually qualified) leaders and then training them as fast and as well as I can (which is, I think, what you’re saying, too). But there might be times I let groups be a little bigger than I’m comfy with, if it means I can train a little bit longer…

  4. Good thoughts Benson. I definitely err of the side of quantity :)
    But, here’s a few caveats on that thought (that I think help them still be high-quality):
    – We have pretty high expectations including going through a 6 week “How to Lead a Bible Study” training course before they can lead and being involved in an on-going weekly leadership meeting
    – We almost always pair up older, experienced, students with younger, first-time leaders.
    – We control the content (reducing the heresy risk)
    – We make sure every Community Group leader is being disicipled

    Cru doesn’t have any nationwide standards. There’s definitely a lot of shared philosophy but it’s up to the individual campuses.

  5. Ian Kirk

    I completely agree. However, the struggle I have is the training itself. Partially (maybe even mostly), because I haven’t had any myself. Also, it’s finding those that are even interested.

  6. Love this Benson – it seems like it too many places people believe that materials have some kind of special powers in and of themselves to bring transformation and real connections between leaders and group members and between members of such a community. Training in this area is overlooked – or when it is not overlooked it is mostly content driven. There’s a lot of wisdom in looking at how to help people facilitate those environments and lead relationally in light of the mission. Thanks for posting that analysis!

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