Recruiting Small Group Leaders

Small groups are a common way to cultivate relationships and disciple people in the body of Christ. However, the success of groups is usually tied to the quality of their leaders.

Some people have a natural knack for leading, while others require more development. Some people are reluctant leaders, while others are eager to jump in the game. Regardless of the situation in your congregation, below are some effective practices for creating an effective leader recruitment process.

Informational Systems

Before you start recruiting leaders, it’s important to put the right informational systems in place. An informational system aids the recruitment process by ensuring the resources and tools are available to capture and process the names of potential candidates. Three kinds of informational systems are particularly helpful: signup systems, survey systems, and application systems.

There should be a place on your website where potential candidates can express interest in becoming a group leader. You can also use Wufoo forms or paper options to make signing up accessible. The goal is to make it easy for people to say, “I’m interested in becoming a group leader.”

Another way to recruit group leaders is to survey your existing leaders. At the end of a semester, I’ve sent group leaders an electronic survey asking for feedback, ideas, and perspective. One of the last questions on that survey is, “Who in your group has the potential to become a future leader?” This gave me a stream of potential candidates I had not yet considered.

Finally, you need a system to evaluate whether a candidate is ready to lead. Having a simple application process will help you assess each candidate and determine who is ready to take their next leadership step. The application shouldn’t be overbearing, but it should give you the information you need to make a wise decision. Scheduling a follow-up meeting after a candidate completes the application is also important.

Having these informational systems in place before you aggressively recruit leaders ensures you have a place to direct potential leaders, a way to find potential leaders, and a process for evaluating potential leaders.

Inspirational Opportunities

To recruit leaders, it’s important to throw the net wide through clear vision casting. Combine inspirational opportunities with the right informational system so you can capture names and contact information.

Some churches conduct a Sunday service where they cast a focused vision for small groups, and then challenge people to step up and lead. To make it more impactful, they might also discuss the diverse range of what a group could look like. In other words, they’ll make it clear that there’s not a one-size-fits-all group or leader.

For example, groups might be organized around a topical study, workplace, life stage, language, or specific interest. This helps potential leaders match their passions and gifts with a group that fits who God made them to be.

You can’t simply put an ad in your bulletin and expect dozens of leaders to step forward.

Another option is a short, church-wide small group event. Sometimes our church will do a four- to six-week campaign where every group studies the same topic or sermon series. When casting the vision, we challenge people to consider leading a group for a limited window of time.

People respond to vision long before they respond to need. Paint a clear, compelling, and inspirational vision that challenges people to step up and lead a group.

Invitational Challenges

Small group experts Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson said, “Rather than look for leaders, we encourage churches to look for people. There’s always a greater supply of people than of obvious leaders.”

Don’t restrict leadership to an elite group of high-capacity leaders. Extend invitations to everyday people who, as Larry Osborne says, are “spiritually warm and relationally warm.” Two strategies are helpful when it comes to invitational challenges.

First, assemble a master recruitment list. Compile a list of people in the church who might be able to lead a small group. Mail a letter to these people, sharing the vision and asking them to pray about it. Then follow up with them in a couple of weeks. This gives each person time to consider the challenge.

Using this method, our church consistently recruited one-third of the list to lead a group. In fact, it has been our most effective recruitment strategy.

Second, make face-to-face invitations. Many people respond better to an in-person request. Over coffee, challenge a potential leader with a vision to lead a group. This lets that person know how much you believe in him or her. It also makes it easier to field questions and provide perspective on the opportunity.

You can’t simply put an ad in your bulletin and expect dozens of leaders to step forward. You have to recruit them. Identify a list, make the invitation, and continue to follow up until you get a definitive “yes” or “no.”

Investing Strategies

The final practice is to create a strategy to continually invest in emerging leaders. Ongoing investment leads to compounding return.

One strategy is to launch a leader-in-training group. I have invited people to join a small group that was specifically focused on developing future group leaders. This gave the opportunity for people to test the waters and better understand what was involved in small group ministry.

During the group, we discussed a curriculum designed specifically for group leaders, and I let group members rotate the facilitation process so they could experience what it was like to lead the conversation.

Another strategy is to recruit co-leaders. Some people are hesitant to lead a group, but they may be open to the idea of co-leading. By teaming up a couple of people, you start creating a pipeline for future leaders. The key is to make sure each co-leader carries part of the leadership responsibility and has the opportunity to facilitate group discussion.

Recruiting small group leaders requires intentionality and effort. Leaders don’t simply show up because you want them to. These practices will help you launch a strong recruitment process and give you a meaningful track to run on.

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