Small group leaders need training. Whether you are overseeing traditional small groups or innovative missional communities, those leaders need training. I've found the following levels of training provide a great framework that can be adapted for your context:
Level 1: Introductory training for new or developing leaders. This is a basic initiation into the role and responsibilities. Most new leaders won't remember what you have to share if you give them too much information. In my experience, most new leaders are primarily asking how they can lead a good meeting. That's why I suggest that you start there. There are tons of great materials on this subject. In my first book, Cell Group Leader Training I summarize the basics of leading group meetings in the first four sessions.
Level 2: A supplemental resource that provides general information about most aspects of leading a group. There are more books on this subject that you can count. Two of the best that I've found include How to Lead a Great Small Group Meeting by Joel Comiskey and Leading Life-Changing Small Groups by Bill Donahue. Most people won't read these straight through, but they will refer to them when they have questions.
Level 3: Just-in-Time training. Leaders need continuing education that comes in small chunks. One of the best ways to provide this for your leaders is by using the resources at www.rightnow.org. You can also do this by recording your own videos for your own youtube channel, referencing various helpful blog posts, and writing tips on your own blog. You can even caste vision and encourage your leaders through short videos. This continuing education should also ground the leader in the ministry that they do outside of the meeting. For this, let me suggest Small Group Vital Signs by Michael Mack.
Level 4: Vision Casting for All Leaders. In the past, the common approach was to gather leaders once per month and do what Carl George called VHS, V-vision, H-huddle, S-skills. Now with all that can be done through the web, quarterly or bi-annual gatherings for all leaders should be sufficient.
Note: these four levels focus on training, not mentoring, coaching, or leadership growth that occurs through teams. The more programmed your small group system is, the less training your group leaders will need because they will depend more on your curriculum and structures. The more missional and organic your system, the more you will need to depend on mentoring, but that's for another post. This is a basic middle ground training pattern that can be adapted for various needs.
Ideas for Training
When I coach small group pastors and consult with churches, I don't assume that the person who hold the pastoral position of "small group pastor" will do the training. Their job is to provide the training, which might be done by other people. Now you might be a great trainer and therefore you will do it.
So should you or others do the training? Here are a few questions that can help you answer this question. Answer all of these on a scale of 1-10 (10 being you agree totally with the statement, 0 being you disagree totally):
- Leading a training event gives me tons of energy?
- When I lead a training, I work hard to speak no more than 60% of the time.
- Participants interact, ask questions, contribute creative ideas at least 40% of the time.
- In training sessions, we come up with collaborative solutions and apply the concepts presented.
- After a training session, people express a desire for more.
So what do you do about it? Here are a few ideas?:
- Discover your strengths? I find that most people, including pastors, don't know the things which they have a propensity to do really well. Strength theory (see Now Discover Your Strengths) states that focusing on our top five strengths produces more results than if we try to elevate our weaknesses to an acceptable level. When we focus on our weaknesses we spend an great deal of energy and get very little in return. If your strengths have nothing to do with training then stop doing it the way you are doing it.
- Develop a way of training that fits your strengths. If you are really good at pastoral care and mentoring, do your training in small groups of two or three at a coffee shop. If you are big on gathering information, read books, summarize what you are learning and write short blog pieces or record short youtube videos. Then send them out to your leaders. Find ways of training leaders that fit who you are.
- Remember this principle: Leaders will lead the way you train them. In other words, they will repeat your pattern. If you talk and preach for 45 minutes, that's what they will tend to do, even if you tell them not to do what you do. Determine what you want them to do and then do that with them. Model it!
- There is tons of stuff on the web that you can forward on to your people.
- For public training, find someone who is good at it and work with them to lead it. This might be a person in your ministry. It might mean bringing in a trainer from the outside. Good trainers can customize and apply the training to your local context. They don't just come in with their pre-developed curriculum that they give to all churches.
- Attend a small group leader training event.
- Finally, whatever you do, always secure feedback from your leaders. Test it and see if it actually produces the kind of actions that you want in your groups. Revise accordingly.