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











Dr. Dwayne McCrary on the Amazing Art of Choosing the Right Books to Read


If you’re joining the blog for the first time this week, you’ll want to go back and read days one and two of this interview with Dwayne McCrary the editor of the most used Bible studies in the world, Explore the Bible for adults. Dwayne has already given us some incredible insights about how to create a transformational Bible study and some amazingly wise counsel on being a church leader.

Today, I’m simply going to ask Dwayne a couple of questions, questions that may change the lives of many of you.

Rick: Dwayne, all great leaders are readers. The problem for most of us is that we don’t know where to find the best books to read. In one of our conversations you spoke with me about how you determine what books you’ll give your time to. Would you share with those reading this blog what you shared with me?

Dwayne: We can’t read them all, but you can at least read some books. And the ones you read ought to be strategic. Here’s a way to narrow them down.

Pick your categories

First of all, I don’t read fiction. There are too many good true stories to be read. I’m not anti-fiction. I’m just pro-history.

Most of us are not interesting in becoming experts in all fields, but there are some areas that should interest us. For me, I want to be a better leader, educator, and Christ-follower. Therefore, business, history, education, and religion are my starting points. Every once in awhile I find a book that fits three of the four categories. That book becomes a must read for me.

Monitor the monitors of the pacemakers

There are people who set the pace in every field. These tend to be the people invited to speak at conferences and interviewed by national programs. These change. You will agree with some, and disagree with others. Read both. Doing so helps you think though why you believe what you believe and helps you develop an answer to their objections.

Different groups monitor who the pacemakers. Here are a few places I have found to be the most helpful.

  • Online Booksellers. Most websites list books by most sold.
  • National news outlets: several larger news outlets publish lists of top selling books and they usually do it by category.
  • Colleges: many colleges allow non-students to view course syllabi online. If your category is education, look at the books used in the education classes, especially the upper level classes.
  • Local business leaders: ask business leaders you know what they are reading.
  • Airport bookstores: airport bookstores are designed for two people: the vacationer and the business traveler. What you find here reveals what these two groups are reading.
  • Airline magazines: many of the inflight magazines include book reviews and reading suggestions. Once again, these are targeting the person on vacation and the business traveler. Many of these magazines can be viewed on the Internet without boarding the plane.

If you see the same book listed in multiple places, add it to the should read list.

Invite others to monitor with you

Ask two or three coworkers or friends to monitor with you. You may agree to monitor different things and then compare notes. Working with a team does three things. First of all, it spreads the load. You can now manage the search. The team also becomes a vetting committee. ou can each be reading different books, being critics for each other. The team also becomes a natural discussion group for what you are reading.

Ask the reading question

When you visit with your boss or some other leader, ask them about what they have read over the past few months. A good way to ask it is: What have you read over the past 6 months that you would recommend to others? If you have already read it, then let your boss know and include one thing you learned from the book. If it is on your reading list, move it to the top. If it isn’t on your list, add it.

One more thought: just because you have a reading list doesn’t mean you will read. You must designate some time to reading. Having a tablet may help, but always carry something to read with you. You never know when the opportunity to read may occur through your day. You may also want to schedule time in your day or at the end of your day to read. The issue is not when, but that you schedule the time.


Rick: Dwayne, I’m going to impose on you bit here if you don’t mind. As I continue to get to know you I realize more and more that you have a knowledge base that is beyond my comprehension. You’re amazingly astute when it comes to leadership, group life, doctrine… and the list goes on and on. This must come from your wise choices concerning what books and authors you give your time to. I hope it’s not too much to ask but, would you share with those reading this blog post a list of the books you’ve read over a lifetime that have influenced you most and what areas of study each of those books falls into? I’d be super grateful if you’d do that.


I have listed these by category and in alphabetical order within that category


Catastrophic Leadership – Echols, England (looks at lessons from nine challenges faced in a church setting)

Decision Points – Bush (regardless of political perspective, this gives a portrait of a decision making process)

The Leadership Challenge – Kouzes, Posner (commonly used in colleges)

Leading from the Second Chair – Bonem, Patterson (looks at the nuances of being the second in command)

Lincoln on Leadership – Phillips (summary of Lincoln’s leadership habits)

The Performance Factor – MacMillan (uses lessons from United Flight 232 to illustrate different dynamics of team and team development)

Spiritual Leadership – Blackaby (gives a basic overview of Leadership from a Christian perspective)

StandOut – Buckingham (looks at leadership styles)


Basics of Teaching for Christians – Pazmino (gives basics and includes how Holy Spirit influences the educational setting)

Called to Teach – Yount (education from the perspective of the teacher)

Created to Learn – Yount (education from the perspective of the student)

How Learning Works – Ambrose (gives 7 principles followed by the faculty of Carnegie-Melon)

Seven Laws of Teaching – Gregory (older book, Howard Hendricks and Bruce Wilkinson’s teaching books are built off this work)

A Theology for Christian Education – Estep (it is what the title states)


Leading Change – Kotter (looks at change from the leader’s view)

Leading Congregational Change – Bonem, Furr, Herrington (is is what the title states)

Managing Transitions – Bridges (looks at change from the view of the group going through the change)

Necessary Endings – Cloud (looks at change from view of leader and the baggage carried as a result)

Our Iceberg is Melting – Kotter (short story that illustrates Kotter’s ideas)


Crucial Conversations – Patterson, etc (strategies for having difficult conversations and confrontations)

Discussion as a Way of Teaching – Brookfield and Preskill (full of techniques for discussion)

Drive – Pink (looks at three elements that motivate people to work including volunteer)

A Fruitful Life: The Missionary Labors of Stephen Paxson – Drury (biography of one of the early American Sunday School missionary, written by his daughter)

A More Beautiful Question – Berger (looks at the creative process in three stages in terms of asking the right question)

Start with Why – Sinek (relates to communicating to gain buy-in)

Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life – Whitney (identifies spiritual disciplines and the practice of them)

Three Roads to the Alamo – Davis (tracks the lives of Travis, Bowie, and Crockett from the 1780s to 1836 as they defend the Alamo, lots of stuff about leadership and motivation)


Best Book I read in 2015

The Boys in the Boat –Brown (lots of lessons on leadership and team building)

A Successful Schedule For A Small Group Leaders Training Retreat… Guaranteed


Your churches group leaders must know and embrace the same vision, have some common experiences, share a common language, and be well equipped to accomplish small group ministry. The question isn’t, “Is this important?”. The question is, “In what setting and when can a group pastor make this happen?”

I’d suggest every group pastor do an annual retreat at the church. Doing it at the church is affordable and makes it possible for group leaders to drive a short distance for the experience.

I know what you’re thinking… “They won’t come.” They will come if you’re leading them well and if you make personal contact with each leader, no matter how many phone calls that demands. You might even want to make this annual training event mandatory. Only you know if a mandatory experience is workable in your setting.

Keep this in mind… If you do an inspiring and exciting retreat the first time, your group leaders will be psyched to show up in the future.

Below you’ll find an outline for an inspiring and educational small group leader retreat. Feel free to use it verbatim!

 Friday Night (tell them 6:00 to 9:00):

  • 6:00 to 6:45 – Dinner (include welcome and prayer)
  • 6:45 to 7:00 – A word from the senior pastor… encouragement, vision casting, etc…
  • 7:00 to 7:05 – Groups Pastor introducing the weekend and thanking everyone for attending.
  • 7:05 to 7:30 – An interactive experience focusing on issues group leaders are dealing with. Let them determine the topics and let them answer one another’s questions.
  • 7:30 to 7:45 – Break
  • 7:45 to 8:30 – Keynote/Guest speaker… Get a guest to come speak, a fresh voice, an expert that can cover a topic you know your group leaders need to hear about.
  • Let them out at 8:30 instead of 9:00. Giving some time back always wins people over. Remind them to be back for breakfast at 8:30.



  • 8:30 to 9:15 – Breakfast (Do each meal as big as you can, not just a continental breakfast. Remember, you’re thanking them for their work. You want them to leave feeling greatly honored and talking about the incredible food.)
  • 9:15 to 9:30 – Devotional led by the Keynote/Guest speaker (Have them speak about the importance of personal time with God or the group leader’s spiritual health and/or journey.)
  • 9:30 to 10:30 – Create another interactive experience by doing a workshop time slot, not a seminar. The difference between a seminar and a workshop is that, when doing a seminar someone talks and people listen. A workshop happens when someone or a few people model something then those in the workshop practice what they’ve seen done, debrief how they did, and learn from the experience. Workshop experiences keep almost any session from becoming boring and are truly effective ways to do training.
  • 10:30 to 10:45 – Break
  • 10:45 to 11:30 – Have the Keynote/Guest speaker do a talk on a topic that needs to be addressed.
  • 11:30 to 1:00 – Lunch… If possible, give each person a 10.00 bill or 15.00 and have them go out to lunch with their coach. If you don’t have a coaching system send them off in groups of six. Whether they go as a group of six or with their coach, give each group a few questions dealing with complex issues small group leaders wrestle with to discuss during the meal. Tell them you’re going to get wise counsel from each group when they get back. Some of the questions might be… 1) What do you do when only a few people show up for a group meeting? 2) What do you do when someone gives their opinion but it contradicts what the Bible says? 3) How do I get my group to understand the importance of sending people off to start a new group? Etc…
  • 1:00 to 1:30 – Debrief by discussing the questions each group talked about over lunch.
  • 1:30 to 2:30 – Have the Keynote/Guest speaker lead a workshop experience with the group leaders. If you get someone who knows what they’re doing, they can create a really interesting experience that keeps the group’s attention even on the heels of lunch and the debrief.
  • 2:30 to 2:45 – Break
  • 2:45 to 3:45 – Surprise group leaders by having people from various groups give testimonies describing how the group has changed their life, their family, and their hearts ending with how much their group leader means to them. This takes some planning but will pay off huge.
  • 3:45 to 4:15 – During the break have someone put large post-its on the walls. On the floor next below each post-it place a marker. Have enough of these to have about 6 people at each post-it. Have them go to the post-its. When they arrive there, tell them that we are able to lead others because of the influence we have with them and that we have influence with them because of how we have served them. Have them brainstorm the ways they can serve their group members. As they brainstorm someone chronicles what they’re saying. When they’ve finished brainstorming, allow one person from each group to share what they penned and why they believe that’s true. You speak into the responses each time something is mentioned that you can add to. You’re establishing yourself as an expert which is extremely important. This experience will be perfect to do following the 2:45 to 3:45 session.
  • 4:15 to 4:30 – Break
  • 4:30 to 5:15 – Vision Casting talk by Small Group Pastor/Point Person
  • 5:15 to 5:30 – Prayer time in groups of four
  • 5:30 – Dismiss

You may have noticed that I didn’t include any musical worship times. If possible, make that happen. But, if it’s too much trouble or too costly, you can still have and incredible experience without it.