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Leadership Style and Encouraging Participation

In our context today, these groups need the right kind of leadership and we have been using a number of phrases to describe the type of leadership required in small groups. One of these is ‘facilitative’ leadership and another is ‘light-leadership’.

We use these words deliberately. If you go to a group and the only voice you hear is that of the leader, then that tells you who that group belongs to. If you go to a group and hear all the voices, that tells you the group belongs to the people.

So what is it we want the leader to do?

Obviously there is the practical organisation; where and when the group will meet; how often will it meet; what will be the content. A number of small group leaders delegate this to someone in the group who likes organising things. When it comes to the content, this is the big advantage of having some sort of structure. Most of the holistic small groups within the UK have worked with an internal structure.

Historically many of the small groups around the world and here in the UK have used a structure called the Four W’s, which stands for Welcome, Worship, Word and Witness.

A Welcome is, to all intents and purposes, an ice breaker – a simple question which hopefully every member of the group could answer. It can be as simple as ‘What is your favourite sport?’ or ‘What significant event would you have most liked to have gone to in the past?’. It could ask something very much deeper and more meaningful. Everyone is involved and this immediately sets the tone of the group.

This welcome question does a number of things. Firstly, it means that everybody speaks and is listened to as they answer the question. It sounds quite a small thing but sets the group out on the ‘all involved’ path from the beginning. Secondly, it builds community as we get to know each other and often share something of our personal history as part of the answer to the question. Thirdly, it can be led by any member of the group who can bring the question and ask it. This again creates ownership and encourages participation in the form of leadership.

Here are two resources that you can use for this…  Discipleship Deck and Ice Breaker playing cards

Worship – most groups in the UK have developed some form of non-musical worship – reading of scripture or a psalm, reflection together on that psalm, followed by a time of open prayer for those who want to contribute.

Other forms of small group worship have flourished as small groups have been created across a wide range of church types and styles in the UK.  As part of resourcing the small group we have drawn together 40 more Creative Worship Ideas for Small Groups.  Using a resource like this means that different people in the group can lead the worship successfully and make a contribution to the group by doing so.

Word – looking at scripture. There are a number of models that have developed. Each of these ideas are trying to encourage a participative approach, rather than a long Bible study taught by one person.

The most common model has been for the group to reflect on what was spoken in church on Sunday. This can be done through a number of questions, a re-cap of what was spoken, what the key points were, what the application was that the preacher/teacher had in mind, how we could respond to the sermon, and who would like prayer.

This model has proved to be highly effective. Good educational practice tells us that real learning does not just happen by listening to a sermon. There has to be discussion, reflection and application. Through this example, there is a helpful partnership between the larger church gathering led by the preacher or teacher, and the church in the small group who then look at that material with a view to direct application into their lives.

A number of churches have found that it works better for them to create a separate series for their small groups from what is preached. This could be a theme or a particular book of the Bible. Notes on this are given to whoever is doing the Word section of the meeting and the notes become the content.

This is still a discussion based approach. A passage is read out, people comment on it, key points are identified, application is looked for and discussed and again, prayer could be offered.  We have produced set of 20 Bible study outlines for just this sort of situation called Encounter – 20 interactive Bible studies for small groups.

The last section is the Witness one, which is how the group encourages its members to engage with those outside the church. This is to help each group member to think through their possible impact where they work, where they live, and on the community around them. This stops the group from becoming too introspective and helps to break down the sacred-secular divide between our everyday lives and our relationship with God.

To help groups work well in this area we have produced a set of 40 cards each with an idea that you can use in your small group to keep this section of your meeting time vibrant and practical. Using these cards once again enables different group members to take this section of the meeting.   40 Missional Ideas for Small Groups

We can see that by having a simple structure like this, it takes the pressure off the leader. The leader can organise a programme for a time ahead, letting the members know where they are going to meet, and who is going to lead each part of the meeting.

A group meeting must be organic. Sometimes something happens in a part of the meeting, which needs time and space. This is at the discretion of the leader, but is simply fine. A friend of mine said some years ago that we need a fifth W – ‘the Wind of the Spirit’.  So let us not get too hung up on the structure but think of it a bit like a trellis in the garden that enables the plant to grow.

To help individuals make a good contribution to leading one of the parts of the group we have produced Help! I am leading part of my small group which takes each section and suggests things you need to think about when you are leading.  This booklet has been designed for members of small groups, and we suggest that each person in the group has a copy that they can refer to.

Helpful resources

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