How to Start a Small Group

Starting a small group can sound intimidating, but it really doesn’t have to be. Think of it more as gathering a few friends to get to know each other better and to have some discussion around spiritual matters. It takes some initiative and ownership; a group does not just come together because you have a sign up. Inviting people can be the best way to build your group.

Remember that we seek to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) through small groups; Jesus was the leader of a small group, so we want to use his method! One key Bible passage for me is Mark 3:13-15.

  1. Jesus spends time in prayer over who he would have in his small group.
  2. Jesus chooses the twelve to be with him.
  3. Jesus then send them out on a mission.

I anticipate that we can have several new small groups gathered around these criteria:

  1. Groups formed by topics of interest.
  2. Groups formed by location of residence.
  3. Groups formed by age and life stage.
  4. Groups formed by dynamics or personality of the leader.

Here are a few practical tips to help you get started:

  • Remember that you’re not alone! God knows everything about you and He knew that you would be asked to help facilitate this group. No matter if you’re a seasoned veteran or if this is your first time, God is waiting on you to call on Him for help. God promises that He’ll never leave us or forsake us, so relax!
  • Pray. One of the most important principles of spiritual leadership is to realize you can’t do this on your own. No matter how long we’ve been leading, we need the power of the Holy Spirit. Lean on Him… He will help you.
  • Invite some friends. Don’t be afraid to ask people to come to your group. You will be surprised how many people are open to such a study, especially when you let them know that the study is only for a set number of weeks. Whether you have 4 or 14 in your group, it can be a powerful experience. You should probably plan on at least an hour and a half for your group meeting.
  • Get your materials. You will need to get the teaching materials from KGBC. A copy of the student guide is not always necessary, since the group leader can ask the questions in the group. A note pad can be helpful for questions, responses and remembering what has been said.
  • Prepare for your meeting ahead of time.
    • Spend time in prayer asking God to come into your group’s presence.
    • Ask God for the ability to help your group move past the content to the more important issues in life. Be sure to pray for your group members by name.
    • Ask God to use you and your members to touch the heart of every person collectively.
  • Make people feel welcome. Coming to someone’s home for the first time can be a bit awkward and uncomfortable. Have everything ready and in place before people arrive for the first group meeting. Once people start arriving, 100% of your focus should be on the people coming. Create a warm and friendly environment that makes everyone feel comfortable and included.
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood. The old adage is true, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” That’s why it’s so important that you respond well to those who take the risk of answering your questions. Remember to affirm a person when they speak even if they give the wrong answer. If you disagree, take the blame for the miscommunication and then restate the question for clarity, then ask, “How about someone else?”
  • When you ask a question. Openly communicate with your group ahead of time that silence is okay and model that you are comfortable with silence as you give people time to think about their answer.
  • Ask others what they think before you share. Great facilitators implement the 30-70 rule. They speak 30% of the time while their group members speak 70% of the time. The key is asking better questions that get people talking. The only time that you may want to deviate from this rule is when you are asking for a personal application. In those cases, it may be appropriate to take the lead, especially if the application requires becoming open and vulnerable.
  • Show interest with your body language. One of the best ways to connect with people is to actively listen to them. Great listeners not only use their ears but their entire body. When thinking about listening non-verbally, remember the acronym (SOLER) which stands for:
    • Sight: face people and look at them.
    • Open: adopt an open posture.
    • Lean: lean slightly forward.
    • Eyes: maintain good eye contact.
    • Relax: be relaxed and natural.
  • Be mindful of quiet zones. It’s incredibly important for facilitators to be sensitive to new people or others in the group who are a little reluctant or are not yet ready to add to the conversation or to pray out loud. If you notice a “quiet zone” try not to put added pressure on people who are not ready to share by going “around the circle” for prayer requests or comments. Instead, encourage individuals gently by asking questions like: “How about someone else?” or “Would someone who hasn’t shared like to add anything?”
  • Occasionally sub-group. This can be very powerful, especially after the group gets comfortable with one another. Sub-grouping involves breaking up into smaller groups after the lesson. It’s easier for people to apply what they are learning if they experience a little love and support. Also, those who are unaccustomed to praying out loud will feel more comfortable trying it with just one or two others. Remind these smaller groups that they don’t have to pray out loud if they feel uncomfortable!
  • Handling the constant talker. Handling a group member who intentionally or unintentionally dominates your group time can be one of the biggest challenges for facilitators. It’s important at the outset of the group to share that it’s your hope that everyone in the group gets a chance to add to the group discussion. If a group member doesn’t “take the hint” from your suggestion of asking people who haven’t yet shared to share, then it’s probably appropriate to take more drastic steps. One easy way to dissuade the constant talker is to make sure you limit eye contact with this person. When you make eye contact, it communicates to the dominator that it’s appropriate to speak. You may want to strategically sit this person on your immediate left hand side. If the behavior persists, it may be appropriate to ask this person to help you encourage others to share by praying privately for those individuals who are reluctant to join in.
  • Love your group. Maybe the most important thing you bring to the group is your personal care for them. If you will pray for them, encourage them, call them, e-mail them, involve them, and love on them, God will be pleased and you will have a lot of fun along the way.

Profile of a Small Group Coach

As the church grows, I anticipate the need for many more new small groups; which means that we need leaders willing to step out in faith to make an impact on our community and eternity by shepherding other people. The pastor literally cannot do it alone.

Small group leaders are needed to shepherd a group of about 6-12 people. Out of this group the intent is to develop other leaders from within the group who will also be committed to the Great Commission and is looking forward to the day he or she can birth another small group of their own.

When we have several small groups meeting around the city or at church, there will come a time when we need small group coaches to help shepherd the small group leaders. Sounds confusing until you understand the Jethro model of ministry organization.

Catch this scene:

Moses has a father-in-law, Jethro, who stops by while the Israelites are camped in the wilderness near the mountain of God (Exodus 18:5). Moses tells him all the cool stuff God is doing for them (Exodus 18:8) and Jethro praises God (Exodus 18:10). The next day Jethro catches Moses at work, making decisions for the people (since Moses was the guy able to inquire of the Lord) and asks what he is doing, because it doesn’t look good (Exodus 18:14, 17).

Jethro said he needed to be involved in leadership training to teach the leaders how to minister to the majority of the people (Exodus 18:20, 21) bringing only the difficult cases to Moses. So, Moses takes the advice and developed a system of leadership and accountability for thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens (Exodus 18:25). Here’s what it would look like (to the right):

Snapshot of a Coach:

To serve, care for and develop a huddle of small group hosts (about 5 groups).

Coach Qualifications:

  • Must have a heart for reaching people and shepherding them.
  • A Person of FAITH:
    • Faithful: They follow through with commitments, proven track record of responsibility and follow-through.
    • Available: Willing to focus on coaching by making time to lead and to develop as a leader.
    • Initiative: Self-starter, takes responsibility, asks questions, proposes solutions, moves toward problems.
    • Teachable: Values learning and developing, listens well, takes instruction from many sources, values correction and criticism, not enslaved to their own ideology, spirit of humility.
    • Honest: Transparent, knowable, authentic, truthful, accurate, willing to confront when necessary.
  • Growing walk with God, strong character and a commitment to God’s redemptive plan.
  • The ability to lead leaders and hosts: encourage and hold accountable, people developer, team builder.
  • Ability to work a system and a plan; understanding authority and responsibility, taking initiative.
  • Good people skills: able to connect emotionally and build relationships with others.
  • Spiritual Gifts: They may include leadership, wisdom, discernment, shepherding and encouragement.

Profile of a Small Group Leader

I feel that small groups are the key to developing people into fully devoted followers of Christ. They are the place where people make connections to God and to one another. The Great Commission is a command of Christ that is given to individual believers, not to the church at large (Matthew 28:18, 19, 20). If we really believe that, it is an insult to our faith if we don’t seriously ask the question, “What can I do to help fulfill the Great Commission?” I submit to you that nearly anyone can learn how to lead a small group.

The key is not to focus so much on the teaching part. We all feel inadequate to teach others the Bible concerning spiritual things; after all, we are all just sinners saved by grace, no one is perfect. But do not let that false humility keep you from obeying the commands of Christ. I feel the better role of a small group leader is that of a shepherd more than a teacher (read here about the difference). God uses our weaknesses to bring himself glory (1 Corinthians 1:25, 27, 4:10, 2 Corinthians 12:10).

So, here is a brief summary of what I expect out of a small group leader:


To host or facilitate a small group to love God, love others and make disciples.


  • Has a heart for God.
  • Has a teachable spirit.
  • No addiction or moral issues (drugs, alcohol, cohabitation, etc.) that would set a bad example for others to follow or bring shame on the name of Jesus Christ.
  • No current marital struggles (i.e. infidelity, separation, divorce in process, etc.).


  • Will dedicate enough time to adequately facilitate the small group (average of three hours/week).
  • Will communicate updated group roster information to me (or a small groups coach).
  • Will participate in leader training meetings provided by KGBC.


  • Cultivate Relationships: Build a sense of community within the group through interaction, mutual prayer, and follow-up outside the group meeting time.
  • Promote Shared Ownership: Every group member should contribute to the group in some way (discussion leader, activity planner, follow-up calls, food, host home, etc.).
  • Identify Potential Group Leaders: Keep an eye out for others within the small group who may be candidates to host or lead a small group down the line.

Values of a Relational Leader

The church is not supposed to be just spinning it’s wheels with lots of activities. It’s more than a social organization where people can get together. It’s more than a club that has an exclusive “members only” policy. We are called to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13, 14, John 12:46). We have a great message (1 John 1:5) and provide hope (1 Timothy 1:1, 5, Hebrews 6:19, 1 Peter 1:21) for hurting people and families. There’s a place for any person of any age with a message that is applicable to all people.

Leaders set the pace. Let me suggest that we adopt these ten values to live by. They’re the relational characteristics that each person in the discipleship ministry should hold as important and strive to embody.  So, as relational leaders we value…

A Willingness to Engage

It’s important to overcome fear and continually approach and engage all kinds of people in our ministry. Leaders should be on the lookout for new people, approach people who are new or unfamiliar, and be familiar enough with the total church program to direct and escort guests to where they need to be. If people are unwilling to come on their own, we should go up to them (John 5:40).

  1. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 – We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.
  2. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 – Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.
  3. 2 Corinthians 12:15 – I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls If I love you more, am I to be loved less?
  4. 1 John 3:16 – We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

Laughter and Fun

It’s important to lighten up and enjoy the many blessings God has given to us. If there’s no fun in what we do, why would anybody want to be a part of it? We have a serious message, but we should be the first people to share the joy we have in our lives.

  1. John 10:10 – I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (or more abundantly).
  2. Psalm 126:2-3 – We celebrated with laughter and joyful songs. In foreign nations it was said, “The LORD has worked miracles for his people.” And so we celebrated because the LORD had indeed worked miracles for us.
  3. Isaiah 25:9 – Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.

Transparency and Authenticity

It’s important to be yourself, lower the mask, and be vulnerable with each other and the people we serve. If we put forth a spirit that we have it all together, having no struggles, God just blesses all the time, we then come across as a super-Christian and people can’t really identify with us, or will feel this is not the place where they fit in. We don’t glory in our sin, but how God uses our weaknesses to bring Himself honor and glory is another story. Sharing how God was with us through trial and trouble goes a long way.

  1. 1 Corinthians 2:3-4 – I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.
  2. 1 Corinthians 1:26 – Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
  3. 2 Corinthians 11:30 – If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.
  4. 2 Corinthians 12:5 – On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses.
  5. 2 Corinthians 12:9 – “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.


It’s important to be positive and uplifting to everyone. It’s not putting on a mask to hide inner feelings, but we should be positive and encouraging; people should feel better about who they are after being around you.

  1. 1 Thessalonians 5:12 – Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.
  2. 1 Corinthians 16:18 – For they have refreshed my spirit and yours, therefore acknowledge such men.
  3. 1 Timothy 5:17 – The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
  4. Philippians 2:22 – But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father.

Being “Others Oriented”

It’s important to put others first. Live to give and care more for the comfort of another than for yourself. The JOY class really has the title right Jesus is first, others are next and yourself is third. I remember a YMCA camp in Alabama that had signs all over the place, “I am Third.” I like that!

  1. Romans 12:10 – Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
  2. Philippians 2:3 – Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;
  3. 1 Peter 2:17 – Honor all people, love the brotherhood,
  4. 1 Peter 1:22 – Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,

Communicating Care

It’s important that we care for our people and for each other. The cliché is true… people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. How can we each encourage someone else this week? How can we encourage our people to be more than just a Sunday attender, but live it out during the week, and reach out to their neighbors? Do we really care about people, their needs and their spiritual condition?

  1. John 13:34-35 – Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
  2. John 15:12, 17 – This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.
  3. 1 Corinthians 9:24 – Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
  4. Romans 13:8 – Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
  5. Romans 14:19 – So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
  6. Romans 15:7 – Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.
  7. Hebrews 3:13 – But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,”

Follow Through

It’s important to be faithful to your commitments to our people, leaders, and this ministry. If we let people down, as a character trait, we really harm the gospel because people see us (as leaders) to be those who walk closely to Christ. It is so important to finish well, to never say that I have served enough and it’s time to pass the baton. Age can keep us from serving the way we used to but we still have tremendous knowledge and experiences that need to be passed on to an awaiting generation. Find a FAT apprentice (Faithful, Available and Teachable) and pass on the valuable ministry into which you have invested your life.

  1. 2 Timothy 4:7 – I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
  2. Acts 20:24 – I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.
  3. 2 Timothy 3:10-11 – Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings,

Spiritual Growth

It’s important to be continually and actively growing closer to Jesus. We cannot lead anyone to a place of faith if we have never been there ourselves. A leader continues to grow; he never “arrives.” The best teachers are still students, learning new stuff each week and passing on that which has made a difference in their lives. A teacher does not just lead a lesson but teaches people.

  1. Hebrews 6:1 – Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God.
  2. Ephesians 4:14, 15 – we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.
  3. Luke 6:40 – A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.


It’s important to pray for our people, each other, our church, and this ministry. We do not minister in our own strength (or we’ll burn out), so it is vitally important to be in a prayer relationship with God! The Spirit’s power is unleashed as we yield to God’s will and draw close to Him. People will come to know the Lord as we pray for them.

  1. Proverbs 2:3-6, – If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
  2. 2 Chronicles 7:14 – If my own people will humbly pray and turn back to me and stop sinning, then I will answer them from heaven. I will forgive them and make their land fertile once again.

Living Intentionally and Invitationally

If we don’t ask… will never have a response.  We need to be asking our people to take the next step in their spiritual journey, and we need to be asking others to come along side us and serve on this discipleship ministry. Spiritual growth or church growth does not happen by accident, but we must be intentional. Our mandate is clear, found in the Great Commission:

  1. Matthew 28:19 – Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Zechariah 3:10 – In that day,’ declares the LORD of hosts, ‘every one of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and under his fig tree.
  3. Matthew 22:4 – Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.
  4. Matthew 25:35 – For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in.