d-Outreach-ChurchGrowthThe key lies in knowing how to develop strong leaders

Strong, healthy small-group ministries succeed because they develop strong, healthy small-group leaders. So, naturally, one of the top concerns ministry leaders have is how to develop strong group leaders. How can you be sure they’ll lead well? What will slow down the turnover rate? How do you get more people to lead?

Healthy leaders are empowered leaders. Empowered leaders are trained for success and entrusted with authority. 

As ministry leaders, we must give our lay leaders more than just permission to lead. It’s our job to provide them with three things: (1) clearly defined direction, (2) relevant training and (3) personal support. When you strategically equip them in these three areas, you produce an environment where innovative leaders lead with passion and power, and lives change.

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A major key to empowering your leaders is adequate training, providing them with the resources they need and avoiding the temptation to let management become about control. If you provide inadequate training and resources, you’ll create the need to hypermanage your leaders later.

An under-trained, over-controlled leadership environment always results in weak, tentative leaders and high turnover. 

Effective training is far more than sharing philosophies. It’s defining what “success” looks like by clearly defining direction and goals and helping your leaders create a plan of action. As you’re developing your training, figure out what assumptions you’re making about what your leaders will know and do when they’re leading. Identify the top three or four things, and don’t assume they can read your mind—train them! 

At Gateway, our first step in training is an orientation for new leaders. In this session, we provide training on very practical things, such as how to get started, where to find curriculum, how to get people in your group and so on. Our initial training also defines the vision for our small groups, explains how leaders are trained and supported, and lets them know what resources are available for them.

Then, it’s time to get started.

After our small-group leaders have started their groups we provide in-depth and practical training about caring for people, empowering group members, facilitation skills and more.

Why do we wait until after they’re leading a group to train them in these areas? Because people learn best when they have a context in which to see and practice what they’re learning. Imagine marriage counseling: You may spend hours in premarital counseling, but you don’t realize how badly you need it until after you’re married!

Another critical piece of the puzzle in empowering leaders is trusting them to lead well. The only way you’ll be able to rest comfortably with this is if you’re supporting and listening to your leaders within the context of personal relationships.

The Bible instructs us to “know the condition of our flock.” You can do this through a core group of leaders who’ve been entrusted with caring for the other leaders. In order to feel empowered, your group leaders need to know who to turn to for help. If they don’t feel relationally connected to these peoplebefore they need help, they won’t turn to them when they actually do!

Far more people succeed than fail when using this approach to leadership development. In fact, very few people fail at all. When a leadership system is structured for support and not control, the cream always rises to the top. As marketing guru Seth Godin says: “When you open doors for people (instead of closing them), your followers are more likely to open doors for others.”

Over time, you will see strong, healthy small groups emerge—because empowered leaders empower others.  



Randy Cochran serves as an executive pastor of Community at Gateway Church in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. He oversees the development of Gateway Groups and the training of Gateway Group leaders. He desires to see people experience true community through consistent involvement in groups. His passion is fueled by the belief that true life transformation occurs in the context of authentic community.

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