Small Group Leadership

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 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 for an invitation)


Organizations to Join:

Small Group Network


Facebook Groups to Join:

Small Group Network


Small Group Ministry Practitioners











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.

Four Times a Small Group Leader Must Speak Up

Zipper On Mouth

I’m often asked, “How would you describe the role of a small group leader?” The answer to this question isn’t difficult to respond to. Having mulled this over for many years and considering what most churches require of the individuals who lead a small group, the response is simply, “A small group leader is the pastor/shepherd of a small congregation.”

One of the responsibilities of a pastor shepherd is to protect the flock from those things that negatively affect the hearts of the people in their group. With this in mind, there are four times a small group leader must speak up.

  1. When someone in the group is verbally bullying another group member. Once in a great while there will be someone in a small group whose tone, intensity, and body language is purposefully used to intimidate other group members. When this person is using these manipulative tools with the entire group or individuals in the group, the small group leader must speak up.
  1. When there’s conflict between group members. Too many group leaders choose to ignore it when people in the group are at odds with one another. Sooner or later, 1) there will be a verbal explosion during a group meeting, 2) one or other of the group members will leave the group, or 3) the group leader will be drawn into the conflict, not to resolve it, but to choose a side. When there’s conflict between group members a wise group leader will step into the situation as soon as possible and mediate a conversation that leads to resolution and reconnection.
  1. When group members are gossiping about other group members. Gossip will almost always lead to devastating relational consequences. Like roaches, gossips hide in dark places, come out at night when they can’t be noticed, and dirty everything up. The same is true of a gossip. If a small group leader is going to protect the hearts of those they lead and the unity of the group, that group leader must, when they are made aware of it, confront the gossip and aid them in learning to, “remain silent” and “speak the truth in love.”
  1. When a coalition has been built. Perhaps nothing is more dangerous to the unity of a group than when part of the group becomes a coalition of disgruntled conversationalists. Coalitions are built when a few people begin gossiping with one another about group life, someone else in the group, others in the group, and/or the leadership of the group leader. People who are part of a coalition intuitively empower one another and sooner or later, during a group meeting or in a one on one conversation the group leader will hear these words – “A few of us have been talking and…”. That statement is almost always followed by a complaint, a complaint that has the backing of everyone else in the dastardly coalition. When a group leader realizes there’s a coalition in the group they lead, they should meet with those people, hear their concerns, and aid them in understanding that, when one of them has a concern they should come to the leader of the group, not begin polling the other group members.



The Route to Koinonia As Gifted to the Small Group Movement in the 1990’s


Sometimes those who are part of or join a movement needs to ask themselves, “What have we forgotten that made us who we are?” Maybe some of us in the groups movement would do well to consider that question. Over the last few months I’ve been rereading some books that shaped my view of small group ministry. Going back to John Wesley in the 1700’s right up to small group books I read last year. These readings have taken me on quite a journey, a journey into some fundamentals of group life that may need to be remembered – and rebirthed.

If you’ve been reading the blog this week you know that I’ve been sharing portions of Lyman Coleman’s, Serendipity Encyclopedia, a man and writing that shaped much of my thinking about group life.

Today I want to allow Lyman to enlighten all of us by unearthing his baseball diamond strategy, a strategy that gives us four bases, the four bases that take a group from simply knowing one another to living in biblical koinonia.

He calls this strategy, The Baseball Diamond. He’s schooling us once again.

The Baseball Diamond.

We are ready to ask the questions, “What does group building look like?” and “What is the process for becoming a group?

The best illustration we can use is a baseball diamond, with home plate being “koinonia” or depth Christian community. This is what a small group needs to become… like the Upper Room gathering in the 50 days leading to Pentecost. And to get to home plate, you have to go around three bases like the three bases of a baseball diamond.


First Base: History Giving. Some people call this “unpacking.” We call it “history giving” because we want you to tell your spiritual story to one another.

  • YOUR PAST: Your roots. Early memories. Significant people and places. Milestones in your spiritual development.
  • YOUR PRESENT: Where you are right now in your spiritual pilgrimage.
  • YOUR FUTURE: Where you want to be. Your hopes and dreams.

Your “story” is important to your group if you are ever going to be a caring community. The GREATEST GIFT you can give your group is the gift of your story.


Second Base: Affirmation. Some people call this “feedback, “ but feedback could mean negative response and we do not believe a group should ever engage in negative feedback.

We prefer the method that Jesus used when he called Simon a “Rock,” and changed his name and his life with this affirmation; or when he said to Zacchaeus, “I see you as a son of Abraham” – that is, somebody of value. (He in fact, was a son of Abraham, but he wasn’t acting like one… and it took the affirmation of Jesus to help him see this.)

Second base is saying something like, “Thanks for sharing…”; “I appreciate what you shared…”; “Your story became a gift to me…” we specifically work on this in the group-building process.


Third Base: Goal Setting. Once affirmed, the group is ready to move on and share on a deeper level. This is sometimes called the need level. Ask the group members to explain this in the positive: “Where do you need to move on…” “What is God saying to you?” “What is keeping you from…?”

Third base is what the disciples must have shared when they returned to the Upper Room after Christ’s ascension – scared, frightened, confused and hurting. Can you hear the disciples in the room saying, “I can’t believe that God has left us”; “I’m afraid”; “I’m angry”? And can you imagine the Holy Spirit beginning to reach out to these hurting people and “bind up their wounds” as he had promised? The Holy Spirit was discovered in this atmosphere of broken people.


Home Plate: Koinonia. Nowhere in the Bible is the Greek word koinonia defined. It defies definition. But the disciples must have experience something in the Upper Room, because they were empowered with a new kind of power. The “walking wounded” became the “wounded healers” in this community of love and support.

Some have tried to describe this as bonding, as catharsis, as a symphony orchestra of individual instruments – each contributing their gift. But once a group reaches this level of being, lives are changed and the church becomes alive! The power and ministry of the Holy Spirit is released. This is what the first six to eight weeks in a small group are all about – birthing and bonding.


All of us should be thankful to Lyman for his decades of traveling across the nation, for months at a time, teaching church leaders how to do small groups. While you may not agree with all that he says, you should never question that you have the opportunity to lead a group ministry because Lyman Coleman started a movement that continues to this day.

Thanks Lyman!

You’re amazing!!!

Astounding! A Small Group As Defined Decades Ago


This is day three in a series of blog posts focused on Lyman Coleman’s Serendipity small group model, a model that was given to the groups world decades ago. As I’ve mentioned in prior blog posts this week, we groups point people may need to be reminded of some of the fundamental principles and practices as it seems we may have gotten so far off the tracks that train wrecks are happening in some group ministries.

While reading Lyman’s, Serendipity Encyclopedia, I found the definition he and Roberta Hestenes gave the small group world in 1993. Check it out. I’m giving it to you as it reads.


So what is a small group, anyway? Roberta Hestenes, one of the great pioneers of the small group movement, has defined a small group in this way:

“A Christian small group is an intentional, face-to-face gathering of 3 to 12 people on a regular time schedule with the common purpose of discovering and growing in the possibilities of the abundant life in Christ.”

Consider the elements of this definition:

“intentional” – This refers to the covenant or agreement which the group establishes at the beginning to identify the responsibilities and accountability of the group members. Group members choose to be involved.

“face-to-face” – When people meet face-to-face, the gathering can produce honesty, freedom, trust, evaluation and growth uniquely found in interpersonal relationships. Besides, 90% of all communication is nonverbal.

“3-12 people” – With less than three people, you don’t have a group, and with more than 12 you begin to lose intimacy.

“regular time and schedule” – This is essential to foster loyalty and consistency among group members. Many small groups meet weekly, especially at the beginning so bonding can occur.

 “common purpose” – If a group does not share a common vision and common goals, it will eventually fail. People follow clearly understandable ideas and direction.

“discovering and growing” – A small group is an ideal place for a non-Christian to discover what following Jesus is all about. It is also a place for believers to grow in their faith.

“the abundant life” – Small groups have the capacity to make Christianity come to life through prayer, discussion, study, fellowship and ministry.

Eye Opening Historical Small Group Ideas, 8 Assumptions Behind the Serendipity Group Model


The groups world would be wise to look over her shoulder, recognize the heroes that started the contemporary small group movement, and embrace some forgotten assumptions about group life that were established decades ago.

One of the pioneers of the contemporary small group movement is Lyman Coleman. Lyman is one of my heroes and one of the greatest thinkers in the small group space – ever. Lyman established a ministry called Serendipity. His description of Serendipity reads, “Serendipity is what happens when two or three get together and share their lives and the Holy Spirit does something beautiful when you least expect it.” Sounds like a great small group gathering, don’t you think?

For the next few days I want to remind us of some of the philosophies and practices that were established by Lyman. These philosophies and practices have the power to re-establish what small groups really can do. They also unearth for us what we can become through the work of the Holy Spirit, an understanding of and the importance of living the expectations unearthed in the Word of God, and what really happens as we live in sincere Christian community together.

Today, Lyman’s 8 Assumptions Behind the Serendipity Group Model:

  1. We are created in the image of God and endowed with amazing potential
  1. This potential can be realized through Jesus Christ, in the company of a supportive Christian community.
  1. To become a truly supportive Christian community we need to get to know one another in depth, and this takes time, effort and a common commitment to life together.
  1. Personal growth begins with inner change – as we respond to the invitation of God for newness of life.
  1. The Holy Spirit has endowed us with spiritual gifts for ministering to others within our supportive community, and through the community to the church and world at large.
  1. Scripture is the living account of God’s redemptive activity, and the primary guide to his will for right now.
  1. Spiritual wholeness includes our whole being – our emotions, relationships, values, and lifestyles.
  1. Celebration happens naturally and spontaneously when we are set free in a supportive Christian community to discover and express the beautiful persons we are in Christ.


This list was taken from the Serendipity Encyclopedia by Lyman Coleman.

14 Lame Excuses People Use for Not Joining a Small Group and A Wise Response to Each


A massive number of people never join a small group because, when they verbalize an honest excuse, we don’t have a wise answer for them. Below you’ll find fourteen excuses people use when they don’t want to become part of a small group. You’ll also find a wise response to each excuse.

  1. I don’t know the Bible well enough.

Response: No one knows everything about the Bible, even pastors. All of us are there to learn the Bible together.


  1. I’m an introvert.

Response: Many of us in the group are introverts who don’t like to talk in public and you won’t have to until you choose to.


  1. I’m not comfortable around strangers.

Response: You won’t be strangers very long. I know because I’m just like you. In just a few weeks you’ll feel right at home.


  1. I don’t have time.

Response: We all have time for what we make time for. It’s up to you if you choose to make small group a priority or not.


  1. I’m afraid a question will be asked that I can’t answer.

Response: Every week the group leader asks a question I can’t answer. I just let someone else in the group answer that question.


  1. I don’t have anyone to watch my kids during the meeting.

Response: We have childcare at the meeting for your kids. In fact, they’ll get to hang out with other kids whose parents are in the group. Your kids will have a great time.


  1. My kids will interrupt the meeting.

Response: Sometimes our kids come to the room we’re meeting in and interrupt us. We don’t care about that because we all love our kids and will love yours too.


  1. I’m not comfortable praying aloud.

Response: You won’t be called on to pray aloud. You can if you want to but you won’t be forced or asked to. If you want me to I’ll let the group leader know about this before you come to the first meeting.


  1. I don’t understand the terms other Christians already know.

Response: None of us know all the Christianese that people use. When we don’t know what some term means we just ask the person who said it what it means.


  1. My husband won’t go with me.

Response: No problem. We’d be honored to have you without your husband. A lot of people are in groups without their spouses coming with them. Sometimes it’s because the husband travels for work or for some other reason. We’d be honored if you’d join us and I promise, you’ll feel right at home if you do.


  1. My wife won’t go with me.

Response: No problem. We’d be honored to have you without your wife. A lot of people are in groups without their spouses coming with them. Sometimes it’s because the wife travels for work or for some other reason. We’d be honored if you’d join us and I promise, you’ll feel right at home if you do.


  1. I’m allergic to most pets.

Response: We’ll be sure to find a group for you where the hosts don’t have any pets.


  1. I’m single and most groups are made up of couples with kids.

Response: Jesus’ church is really diverse. I promise, you’ll feel welcomed and be treated as just another Christian friend if you’ll give the group a try.


  1. They’re going to want me to talk about myself and I’m not confortable with that.

Response: You don’t have to talk about anything until you’re ready to. The group leader isn’t going to force you to talk about yourself or anything else.