Where New Small Group Pastors Can Get the Training They Need


If you’re like me, you started in ministry with a lot of gaps that needed to be filled. You were excited about doing ministry but didn’t really know what you were doing. Once I realized where my weaknesses were, I could respond accordingly. I disciplined myself to learn what needed to be learned by reading the right books, going to the right conferences, being connected to the right organizations, and interviewing the right people.

Below you’ll find a list may be helpful to you as you journey into small group leadership.

Foundational Small Group Ministry Books:

Prepare Your Church for the Future by Carl George

Building a Life-Changing Small Group Ministry by Bill Donahue

Leading Life Changing Small Groups by Bill Donahue

Small Groups With Purpose by Steve Gladen

Leading Small Groups With Purpose by Steve Gladen

Connecting in Communities by Eddie Mosley

Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support by Brad House

Starting Small By Ben Reed

Destination Community: Small Group Ministry Manual by Rick Howerton


Conferences to Attend:

Small Group Beta, Sponsored by LifeWay Church Resources (Invitation only event. Email me at rick.howerton@lifeway.com for an invitation)

The Lobby, Sponsored by the Small Group Network

Re:Group, Sponsored by North Point Community Church

GROUPS200, Sponsored by LifeWay Church Resources (Invitation only event. Email me at rick.howerton@lifeway.com for an invitation)


Organizations to Join:

Small Group Network


Facebook Groups to Join:

Small Group Network



Small Group Ministry Practitioners












What Is A Successful Small Group Ministry – Really?


What is a successful small group ministry? This is a question every small group point person must ask. If we never ask this question, we never know what we must accomplish so we can never strategize for accomplishment.

But we must first ask who gets to answer the question, “What is a successful small group ministry?”. If we ask the senior pastor, we may be told that a successful small group ministry is a ministry that helps weekend worshipers make friends so that they will stick. If we ask the Finance Team they may be prone to declare that a successful small group ministry brings more tithers into the congregation. If we ask the elders, they may say the small group ministry is successful when no need goes unmet. If we ask group members, they’ll most likely tell us a successful small group ministry makes sure they can have some close friends. And if you ask yourself, the Small Group Point Person, you may say a successful small group ministry is a ministry that functions within its budget and is an efficient machine starting a massive number of new groups annually.

But, who should answer the question, “What is a successful small group ministry?” There’s only one right answer to this question – Jesus. If Jesus were to answer this question, he’d tell us that a successful small group ministry makes mature disciples who then make disciples.

So – are you leading a successful small group ministry?

Pastors and Self-Centeredness… The Social Networking Challenge


Is it possible that a pastor can be self-focused, self-centered, downright narcissistic and not even know it? I’m certain it’s possible.

I must confess that there was a time in my life when those terms described me and I didn’t realize it. You say, “How can that be?” Because, in this social networking world, what may seem to be the normal way to live life may actually be the avenue through which we feed our own egos. And many pastors are social networking phenoms!

Blogs, Facebook posts, Instragram post, and 140 character Twitter messages may simply be ways to prompt our “audience” to praise us. Each time a blog post gets read, every instance when a Facebook post goes viral, and anytime a tweet catches the eye of the multitudes or a celebrity pastor or denominational leader retweets it, the self-centered pastor gets his fix. And, if we’re addicted to getting a fix of this nature, we are self-absorbed, attention addicts. I understand this well.

I use to watch my klout score closely. If it grew my ego got its daily fix. I checked my blog stats at least four times a day to see how many people had clicked on the content I’d made available to the world. And it wasn’t unusual for me to tweet three times a day then watch to see how many times I was retweeted. While a pastor may not realize it, social networking may be the avenue through which they seek glory for themselves rather than seeking to make Jesus famous. You see, it’s impossible to glorify oneself while at the same time bringing glory to God.

I would like to challenge those of you who pastor and are deeply into social networking to do the following for two weeks. If you do this for two weeks, the level of emotional withdrawals you experience will tell you much about your heart.

The Challenge… Don’t tweet, blog, Instragram, or Facebook for two weeks. During that time, make a note of how often you start to do one of these things and feel discouraged that you can’t. Also, make note of how often you fbranding-forum-kharkov-comeel as though you’re not being heard by your “audience.” And most importantly, when either of these feelings occur, ask God to reveal to you your primary motivation for being a social networking junkee.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with social networking – unless it causes you to be more fixated on building your brand than on building the Kingdom of God.


“Ice-Breakers Suck!”


I was once again leading a small group leader training event in a southern state. The room was completely full. Over 100 group leaders were there. The small group pastor had invited me to spend 4 hours with them. His one major expectation, “Be sure you help them know how to host an effective conversational Bible study.” Since aiding group leaders in doing that specific thing is one of my passions I was jazzed. That is, until I announced, “If you want to experience a truly transformational conversational Bible study, start with a couple of good ice-breakers.” That’s when the moment went south. From the back of the room came this shout of exasperation, “Ice-breakers suck!”

This is not the first time I’ve encountered group leaders frustrated when ice-breakers are brought up. After interviewing many group leaders who verbalized their frustration with ice-breakers, I find that most of them aren’t personally frustrated. Rather, they’ve had complaints from a few group members when the leader opens the meeting ice-breakers.

There are a few super important reasons to do a couple of ice-breakers before diving into the Bible study conversation.:

  1. It gets group members talking about their own story.
  1. It levels the playing field. A good ice-breaker is simply a question that asks about something from one’s childhood or teen years or asks about a preference you have, etc… It’s a question anyone can answer. And, when you have a garbage collector in the same room as a bank president, when a question of this nature is answered by both individuals, a level playing field is created.
  1. It gives the leader a chance to model active listening for the group prior to the Bible study conversation.
  1. It sets the tone of the meeting as being relaxed. This is especially important when new group members are in attendance or when discussing some heavy stuff during the Bible study time.
  1. It gets the person who is hesitant to talk into the conversation early on.
  1. It allows the non-talker to say something during the meeting, even if this is all they say, helping them to feel a part of the group.
  1. It gives the group leader a chance to speak a word of encouragement to every group member which will make them more apt to speak when the real Bible study begins. After each person responds thank them for sharing then tell them you look forward to hearing from them later.

Provocative… Group Sizes and What Is Best Accomplished in Each


There seems to be great debate concerning the number of people that make up a healthy group. Part of the reason this is so is due to the fact that today’s church seems to have embraced the idea that almost any group that has fewer people in it than is in a weekend worship service and can fit in one room is a small group.

There are groups of 13 or more meeting in a large classroom with one celebrity teacher proclaiming information to those in attendance. Some call this a small group.

There’s small groups of 4 to 12. These groups have been called small groups for decades.

There’s the disciple making group made up of 2 to 4, one person discipling another person or few others. This too is often called a small group.

So, what’s the deal? The deal is, the term “smaller” (denoting size) has become synonymous with “small” (denoting the actions and activities of a stereoptypical small group, a group of 4 to 12). No group size is the wrong size as long as it knows what it can do best in light of the number of people in attendance.

13 or more – This group is best for the proclamation of The Word of God by an effective Bible teacher. Those in attendance are most apt to sit and listen, take notes, and leave fulfilled knowing they’ve attained knowledge they didn’t have upon arrival. This is more of a university class than a small group.

4 to12 – This group is best for living in intimate Christian commnunity, doing life together. Those in attendance are apt to have a conversation around God’s Word, verbalize their own shortcomings, encourage one another on a personal level, pray for one another’s deepest needs, and leave fulfilled knowing they are not alone in their journey toward Christ-likeness or in the messiness of life. This is more of a family than a class.

2 to 4 – This group is best for high expectation, accountable, disciple making. Those in attendance are led by one person who is discipling them, are driven to memorize Scripture, study the Bible daily, share a verbal witness with others, and leave knowing they are growing toward substantial spiritual maturity. This is more of an accountable disciple making group than a small group or a class.

Seven Reasons A Small Group Should Be 12 or Less People


The number of people in a small group really does affect the group member’s experience. Some have come to believe that a group of 13, 30, even 50 is capable of accomplishing the same thing in the lives of group members as a group of 12 or less. While it may be true that the group leader can promote the same principles and practices, there are at least seven reasons why this ideology may be impractical.

  1. Only a group of 12 or less will experience close, intimate relationships between most or all of its members. This is a group dynamic fact, not an opinion.
  1. When a small group is more than 12, fewer and fewer people are bold enough to engage in the conversational Bible study.
  1. When a group is more than 12, people begin to feel that they are unnecessary to the group and are more apt to miss meetings.
  1. When a group is more than 12, there isn’t time for all the group members to share their thoughts and perceptions during the conversational Bible study.
  1. When a group is more than 12, in most instances, a few people ambush the conversational Bible study each week.
  1. When a group is more than 12, group members are less apt to step outside their comfort zone and pray aloud for the first time, read Scripture, share their spiritual journey, etc… and it is in stepping outside our comfort zones, in faith, that God grows us.
  1. When a group is more than 12, people are capable of hiding in the crowd and ultimately will get lost in it.



Three Outrageously Dangerous Group Leader Types


Being a small group leader is a seemingly overwhelmingly responsibility. At least, that’s what some will say. I actually believe that almost anyone can be an effective small group leader. That is, anyone whose heart is in the right place. Sorry to say, not everyone’s heart is in the right place.

There are three group leader types that may be hazardous to those they lead as well as being a hazard to the reputation of the small group point person, the church leader that allows them to lead.

They are…

  1. The self-proclaimed Bible scholar – There are those people who long to lead so that they have an audience to teach. These types will study hours upon hours so that they can, “teach a lesson.” The self-proclaimed Bible scholar sees himself or herself as the only expert in the room and they speak to others in the room as though this is true. These group leaders don’t lead a discussion that allows the Holy Spirit to teach the group, they declare a message that allows them to prove their level of biblical understanding. Don’t get me wrong. These people may have the gift of teaching, a gift that should be exercised, just not in this way and for sure, not during a small group meeting.
  1. The self-taught psychologist – A plethora of books, tv shows (Dr. Phil), blog posts, and Facebook videos are available that tell us about the human psyche. And many people, even some group leaders, are learning the lingo and giving their hearts to the diagnosis of and emotional healing of their small group members – in lieu of leading the group to learn, embrace, and live the Gospel. While every group leader should aid group members in their emotional healing, every group leader’s primary role is to promote the Gospel and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work. Confusing psychology with theology will lead to little spiritual growth and will oftentimes lead the group members to believe that God’s primary responsibility to make them happy rather than their role being to bring glory to God.
  1. The self-aggrandizing long-term leader – On rare occasions a group leader that’s been in the game for some years concludes that they don’t need a coach, don’t need input from the church’s group point person, and don’t have any obligation to be held accountable for anything they do. This leader type is extremely dangerous. The self-aggrandizing long-term leader is desperately dangerous because they are apt to become so emotionally separated from the group ministry that they run rampant. And a group leader running rampant is apt to, 1) discuss decisions made by the small group ministry leadership team with other concerned leaders creating a debilitating coalition, 2) feel no obligation to be held accountable for what they study or teach which could lead to false teaching taking place in their group, 3) through their attitude and actions lead other group leaders to believe it’s okay to be a self-aggrandizing long-term leader.