My first time ever leading a small group is probably typical. It had four essential elements: Meet, Eat, Teach, Pray. But I have found that even though these elements are biblical (see Acts 2:42), there is another element that is harder to create but more important. (No, it’s not milk; wait for it.) I’m talking about love–deep love for one another.
Without a deep love for each other, people in a small group can’t go deep together. How does a leader promote love that turns a small group into a deep group? Here are five ideas:
1. Stop thinking that you are the only interesting person in the group.
I met a couple the other day after church, and my wife and I went out with them for lunch. What if I told you he was an engineer? Somewhat interesting. What if I told you he is an engineer that designs and mounts machine guns, rocket-launchers, and other weapons onto cars, boats, and aircraft? Now, that’s a guy I’d like to get to know.
In fact, there was much more to this man’s story, and his wife’s, that interested me far more as we talked. I got to hear their story, how they met, where they’re from, and about their dreams, struggles, and joys. C.S. Lewis said that we will never meet a boring person:
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts,civilization these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit” (“The Weight of Glory”).
If we can recognize each other’s extraordinary-ness, we will be more likely to pursue depth with each other.
As a leader, make it your goal to draw out others with good questions, and avoid making the group into a personality cult centered around you.
2. Stop discussing what the Bible says.
Not permanently, of course. The Bible should always be part of the discussion, even if it goes unread or unquoted and is simply in everyone’s minds. What I’m getting at is that we can often make the Bible the sole topic of discussion in small group, without getting very deep into what it means for me and you. If we have only talked about something outside of us, and never gotten to the deeper (and often uncomfortable) point of talking about ourselves–our hearts, longings, failures, etc.–then we have not fostered much love or depth. Most of the time, discussions about the Bible mainly serve to promote our own egos.
3. Stop “shoulding” on others.
We have all seen it: someone has just opened their heart with others, exposing their wounds and problems for others to see, and then another person says, “I think you should…” A friend of mine described this as “shoulding” on someone. If you want to create an environment where people will open their hearts, be clear that there will be no-advice giving, unless asked for.
As a leader, help your group learn the value of listening to people over fixing people.
4. Ask questions that draw others out.
Which is more likely to draw out a person: 1) “What’s up?” or 2) “What’s been a high and a low this week?” I tend to use the “What’s up” question in casual settings, when I’m not necessarily wanting to hear the depths of another’s soul. It’s a fine question, but the “hi-low” question is usually better at getting people to share because it’s more pointed, more intentional about getting to the heart. (See this great idea for family devotions centered around two basic questions.)
As a leader, you not only help people go deeper by asking a good question, but by following it up. A good follow-up that I use is pretty simple, but very effective: “Tell me more about that.”
5. Be the first to jump off the cliff.
If you want your friends to go deep, you’ve got to be willing to do so yourself. Whether it’s jumping off the high-dive, drinking a gallon of milk (there it is), or being vulnerable with others, people need encouragement (or good peer pressure) to do whatever you’re asking them to do, and there’s no better encouragement than leading by example and asking your friends to follow.
As a leader, its your job to model what you’re asking everyone else to do. That means it’s not enough to ask the good questions; you’ve got to be willing to answer them yourself.
When Jesus was about to hand over leadership of the church to his disciples, he told them they were no longer just disciples, but friends. Jesus drew his small group into depth, into real friendship and love.
Which number from the list of ideas above is most helpful for you?