Small groups 101: The four "knows" of effective leadership

Nov 8, 2018 7:00:00 AM / by David Schoenknecht


This is the second blog post in a series about adult small group leadership from the first-person perspective of a pastor. The first post focused on factors that make a small group meaningful. In this post, we raise up four key practices for effective leadership.


Want to improve your small group leadership skills? You’re in the right place! Today, I’m excited to share four key practices that can increase your effectiveness. Each of them relates to a kind of awareness or knowledge – think of them as four unique perceptions that make for a more positive group experience.

Know your group

Effective facilitators are perceptive about each member’s individual personality, the dynamics between group members, and the overall group morale. Understanding these things about your group helps you manage your shared experience.

When a new small group comes together for the first time you might feel more like a greeter than leader. Until a group moves into the norm of relaxed conversation and healthy interaction, everybody is a stranger – including you, perhaps!

Early on you can bring clarity and comfort, guiding by discussing logistics and expectations. Setting meeting times, duration, and clarifying roles are things that you as a leader can do to begin to form a group’s identity.

Facilitators should be very mindful, even at this early stage, about modeling something called balanced sharing. Balanced sharing occurs when everyone participates, and no one dominates a small group discussion. Don’t let the extroverted folks take-over at the beginning or the introverts might fall into their familiar patterns of quietness.

Ask group members to share a few of their favorite photos. Drop them into a PowerPoint and for the group to see on a large screen. This gives even the most introverted group members a comfortable platform and permission to be more expressive about themselves.


Know yourself

Australians Andrew Rixon and Simon Kneebone artfully captured the importance of asking the question: “What kind of facilitator are you?” They designed a series of images that speak to facilitation styles which have become a helpful way to think about who I am to my group – my style morphing, perhaps, as the group moves through its lifecycle.

Knowing and living into your natural style is important, but so is the realization that the group might need you to assume other facilitator styles on occasion. There may even be conflict between your most natural style and how others learn best, so be prepared for the reality that some members may not thrive as well as others under your leadership. Accepting and freely communicating that difference, with good will, is important.


Know your materials


Just as a small group member may connect more strongly with one facilitator style, different types of learning resources can resonate with leaders and individual group members to greater or lesser degrees.  Knowing your materials means being perceptive about how they best serve both you and your group.

Group studies that go through a single book or topic are great for helping adult learners feel like they can contribute. That the group is, literally, on the same page together. Book studies invite even novice participants to feel like they have something to share with the group.

Less experienced facilitators might appreciate the boost that accompanying videos can provide to connect more deeply with a topic and appeal to different learning (and teaching) styles. Look for leader resources that provide extra tips and support for facilitators – including suggestions for changing the direction of a conversation or overcoming other common challenges.


Know that God is present

Trust God to do the heavy lifting in your group – knowing that the power to create, sustain, and instruct us in the faith is power that the Holy Spirit exerts through the Word itself!

Give yourself permission to not focus on pushing through all the discussion questions or to complete anything. A sense of urgency to do so will likely inhibit conversation and diminish the overall experience. Let rich, shared conversation be your goal. Give your group permission to relax into it and see where the Spirit leads each of you and all of you.



Interested in learning more about how to make your small group meaningful for adults? Check out our video series featuring five more essential tips!

Topics: Adults Ministry

David Schoenknecht

Written by David Schoenknecht

After two decades of pastoral ministry, David has enjoyed extending his call into Christian publishing and the academy. At one point he was serving both as a professor and head of the Religious Studies Department at Rockford University while simultaneously developing resources for the Book of Faith initiative! However, it was his work on Sparkhouse’s re:form and animate series that really lit his fire for faith formation.


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