Monday, November 21, 2011

9 Practices of Missional Group Leaders: Overview

Now I'm about to write nine posts that outline the practices that shape the leadership and life of missional small group (community) leaders.  I'm not the first to try to comprise such a list, but as I've said in previous posts, I'm looking for an alternative imagination for leading. So at the risk of being critical, I've felt I needed to be as concrete as possible. What follows are some key lists that have shaped the conversation about small group leadership over the last ten years. While I agree with them, I also want to ask if we can go further. Might we need to extend the conversation beyond this. If not, then we already have these lists. But if there is something else we need to explore, then lets do it.

Henry Cloud and John Townsend speak of these actions as "responsibilities" in their very popular book Making Small Groups Work. These include:
  1. Balance grace, truth and time
  2. Facilitate process
  3. Listen
  4. Provide Safety
  5. Clarify and Ask Questions
  6. Confront
  7. Set Limits
  8. Be an Authority
  9. Require Integration
  10. Interpret Themes, Symbols and Meanings
  11. Help Contain Strong Emotions
Carl George provided a more concrete list of actions that group leaders should take in his highly praised book 9 Keys to Effective Small Group Leadership. The nine keys that he points are include:
  1. Connect with the leadership network in your church
  2. Recruit a leader-in-training
  3. Invite newcomers to your group
  4. Prepare yourself to lead the meeting
  5. Meet together for one-another ministry
  6. Bring your group to worship
  7. Serve your group and others beyond
  8. Win the world as Jesus would
  9. Seek God's renewal as you meet him in secret
Before I proceed, let me be clear that I don't have any major issues with these lists or with the others that I provide below. I want my leaders to grow in these things and the practical input that these books provide is great. About twelve years ago I was serving as the managing editor for TOUCH Publications. While our primary focus was on helping churches develop healthy small groups, we lacked cutting edge resources that would equip people to lead groups well. One day, I got a call from a pastor from Ohio who had grown his church to about 2000 people meeting in about 200 small groups. He had written a book entitled 8 Habits of Highly Effective Small Group Leaders which served as the foundation for the groups in his church. They are:
  1. Dream of leading a healthy, growing, multiplying group
  2. Pray for group members daily
  3. Invite new people to visit the group weekly
  4. Contact group members regularly
  5. Prepare for the group meeting
  6. Mentor an apprentice leader
  7. Plan group fellowship activities
  8. Be committed to personal growth
This book has sold about 60,000 copies, a significant number when you consider that the author is not a household name in small group circles, and it was not published by a big publishing house. This resource is practical and accessible. I still encourage people to use it because the habits help leaders go in the right direction.

I want to point out one other resource that puts a slightly different spin on this. Josh Hunt's book Make Your Group Grow summarizes the key ideas that resulted from his extensive statistical research project. His results revealed that there are three things that matter a little, four things that some a lot and four things that matter a lot when it comes to growing groups. Here I will simply list the four that matter the most:
  1. Hospitality
  2. Working as a team
  3. Good people skills
  4. Spiritual vibrancy
Then he found one that matters more than anything else. He found that group leaders who believe that their groups will grow are much more likely to grow groups. He wrote, "Groups that believe that they will grow are nearly 12 times as likely to be growing, compared with those that don't believe they'll grow." (101)

Each of these lists have an imagination about the purpose of small groups and small group leadership. I think that the imagination that drives the 9 Practices of Missional Group Leaders is slightly different, while at the same time it does not discount them. I'm not thinking in terms of either/or, but both/and. We need these lists, but I think we need to go further.
  • I am looking to identify practices that help leaders see what God is doing and tap into his movement. Most leaders assume that they can control outcomes with their actions. And to be honest, most of the lists above assume the leader has control over the outcomes of the groups. We need practices that embrace God's mystery our midst and the reality that our world is full of unpredictable circumstances that are far beyond our control.
  • I am looking for practices that  help leaders guide their groups to participate in God's creation restoration project, not just on how leaders can do things to grow their groups. I don't think that the two are mutually exclusive. But if our focus lies on growing our groups, we might miss the bigger picture of what God is doing around us. If we see what God is doing, group growth will most likely be a bi-product.
  • I am looking for practices that help leaders change the focus off the self which requires them to be spiritual superstars. Notice how almost all of these lists focus on the actions of an individual leader and his/her abilities. I want to find a way that deconstructs these superstar expectations.
With this as a summary of the last few posts, here is the list that will be be introducing over the next nine days:
  1. Here the Call beyond Connecting Community to Missional Community
  2. Focus on Character Formation, Not Just Leadership Actions
  3. Lead with a Team
  4. Develop Basic Small Group Skills
  5. Gather around the Presence of Jesus in the Midst
  6. Make Time to Waste Time
  7. Be Present in Your Neighborhood
  8. Prepare to Fight
  9. Work Together to Create Missional Synergy
For the next post in this series, Practice #1, click here.

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