by Dave Earley
Why do some small groups grow and multiply while some do not? Is there some activity or set of activities a small group leader can do to increase the probability of the group growing and multiplying? If so, are these activities beyond the reach of the average small group leader? Will it take years of training to master them? Or is there a set of activities that are attainable and realistic that any small group leader who wants to grow and multiply can put into his or her weekly schedule?
I believe I have an answer to these questions. I have had the privilege of leading small groups and coaching small group leaders for twenty-five years. It began when, as a 16-year old, several friends and I started lunchtime Bible studies at our high school. They "accidentally" grew and multiplied. In college, I started a discipleship group that spread over the campus. During my summers, I started groups in little towns in England and in high rises in New York City. After I graduated, I started groups in rural Virginia. Then, I was hired to train, write curriculum for, and oversee 300 small group leaders at a large Christian university. Later, I started a group in my basement that grew into a church with over one hundred groups.
Some of these various groups grew and multiplied; others did not. Through the years, I have noticed the long-range effectiveness of leaders revolves around simple habits that those leaders practice outside of the group meeting.
Many leaders sincerely want to grow and multiply their groups, but they are not sure how. They work on finding better icebreakers or asking better discussion questions. While these are valuable things, the real key to growing and multiplying a cell group lies in the practice of eight personal habits.
Several years ago, I wanted to show the leaders I was coaching exactly what it would take for them to be highly effective. By studying cell ministry and thinking through my own experience, I came up with eight regular practices that seemed to make the difference between effectiveness and ineffectiveness. I put them into a concise list of eight habits that would enhance the effectiveness of a small group leader.
I began asking the leaders I coached to adopt these habits and build them into their weekly schedules. Without exception, those who used these habits became highly effective leaders who grew and multiplied their groups. Those who did not, did not. What was especially interesting was that gifts, personality, and experience were not as important as commitment to the eight habits. Leaders who did not have the gift of teaching or had not been Christians for a long time but who followed the eight habits became effective. Leaders who tended to be quiet or had never led before but who practiced the habits were growing and multiplying their group. The eight habits made the difference.
After teaching these habits for several years, I have come to several conclusions:
1. The eight habits work. Following the eight habits of an effective small group leader makes all the difference between mediocrity and greatness, between stagnation and multiplication. Following them will produce growth, develop future leaders, and add to what God wants to do.
2. The eight habits are universal. They apply to all cultures and all types of groups. They are foundational principles that work for any type of group and any type of leader. They are usable with any group of people whatever their age, race, gender, or socioeconomic status. They can be lived in the inner city or on the farm. They work for those on a college campus, those in a foreign nation, and those in the suburbs of the U.S.
Although some see a distinction between "small groups" and "cell groups," in this book the terms are treated interchangeably. This is because the eight habits are universal and apply to both.
3. The eight habits have broad application. One beautiful fact is that they are essentially the same habits that produce effectiveness for coaches of small group leaders, zone directors, and small group pastors. Once a leader incorporates them, he or she has the foundation for moving up the levels of small group leadership.
4. These habits are easy to understand and remember. I have seen small group leaders' eyes light up as their mentors explain the eight habits to them. Leaders nod their head and say, "Yes. I see. That's simple enough. It's just common sense."
5. The best quality of these habits is that they are doable. Any leader can put them into practice, if he invests the time. When small group leaders hear the habits explained, they nod, saying things like, "This is just what I have been looking for. Now I have a clear course to follow. I can do this."
6. The eight habits are realistic. Most leaders can fit them into their busy schedules. It does not take a spiritual giant or someone with unlimited time to do them. These eight habits are attainable goals for all cell leaders.
7. The eight habits are motivating. Upon learning them, leaders burn with the passion to put them into practice. The eight habits are challenging, but not overwhelming.
The eight habits can take a small group leader, and those under him or her, to a new level. Whether an apprentice leader, a novice small group leader, a seasoned leader, a coach of small group leaders, a director of a district of groups, or a pastor of a large small group ministry, the eight habits will work. These habits lead to fruitfulness and multiplication. The eight habits will help leaders, and those under them, experience greater fulfillment in ministry.
The eight habits of effective small group leaders are as follows:
- Dream of leading a healthy, growing, multiplying group.
- Pray for group members daily.
- Invite new people to visit the group weekly.
- Contact group members regularly.
- Prepare for the group meeting.
- Mentor an apprentice leader.
- Plan group fellowship activities.
- Be committed to personal growth.