15 Practical Tips for Leading a Small Group Toward Gospel Growth

Leadership Resources wants to see God’s Word flow mightily in every church and every nation. Besides the pulpit (our primary focus), one of the ways God’s Word advances in many churches today is through a small group ministry.

Growth Groups- A Training Course in How to Lead Small Groups Colin MarshallHow can a small group ministry best submit the group and individual members to the transforming Word of God? That’s a question that Colin Marshall considers in Growth Groups: A Training Course in How to Lead Small Groups.

This volume seeks to equip leaders for leading Growth Groups, develop an understanding of small group ministry shaped by the Bible, and impart a vision for small groups to lead to greater gospel growth in the church and the world. It is immensely practical, biblically saturated, and says an awful lot in just about 130 pages (not to mention valuable appendices and exercises).

As I read through Growth Groups, I took notes of things I found especially helpful when considering leading a group toward growth in the gospel.

15 Practical Tips for Leading a Small Group Toward Gospel Growth

1. Focus primarily on growing in Christ. Growing in Christ needs to be our focus instead of the number of participants or growing in our relationships with other group members (although both of which are good). Keeping Christ the focus will keep us from going down unhelpful paths.

2. Do not equate closeness as a group to closeness with God. This keeps the focus on Christ instead of letting our experience of relational closeness sneak in and shift our focus. Done right, focusing on Christ as a group will result in closeness as a group anyway.

3. When guiding discussions, ask guiding questions. The role of a leader in group discussions is to ask questions, not to answer them. Ask probing questions that stimulate thought. Here are a few types of questions (from page 48):

  • Extending: What can you add to that? Could you explain that more fully?
  • Clarifying: What do you mean by that? Could you re-phrase that statement?
  • Justifying: What reason can you give for that? Can you explain that from the passage?
  • Re-directing: What do others think? Mary, what do you think?
  • Reflecting: What I think you’re saying is… Is that right?

The Gospels share how masterful Jesus was at this—He didn’t just provide answers, but wanted those He conversed with to wrestle through issues.

4. See small group leaders as Bible teachers and not facilitators. Instead of causing dependence on specific resources or curriculum, training leaders to read and teach the Bible themselves will enrich the leaders understanding of Scripture and allow them to better minister in their group and in their lives.

5. Curb speculation and focus on the Bible. It can be a temptation to wander down rabbit trails in Bible study and discussion. Speculations generally lead away from the focus Scripture is trying to make. Encourage people to keep their noses in the Bible and focus on what it does say, not what it doesn’t.

6. Summarize central truths of the passage/discussion at the end. Repeating main points stays focused and teaches by repetition. You can also repeat relevant applications and pray together to apply them.

7. Reinforce certain roles in group. Good leaders should steer their groups (and themselves) to constructive roles within the group. Marshall also shares a section of strategies working with each of the destructive roles.

Constructive Roles (from page 57-58):

  • The Peacemaker: resolves disputes
  • The Focuser: keeps to the task
  • The Encourager: positive about others
  • The Sympathizer: draws out people’s feelings
  • The Initiator: gets the ball rolling
  • The Summarizer: draws together the argument
  • The Humorist: lightens the moment
  • The Devil’s Advocate: sharpens people’s thinking
  • The Socializer: organizes the social life of the group

Destructive Roles (a summary of p58-61):

  • The Onlooker: a non-contributor with minimal participation
  • The Monopolizer: a dominant talker who often rambles and loves the sound of his or her own voice
  • The Sidetracker: a person who cannot stay focused and often distracts the group with interesting, but unrelated thoughts
  • The Clown: while a jokester can give a happy tone to the group, they can distract the group with humor that is inappropriate in content or timing
  • The Expert: know-it-alls, or those who give off that impression, can be an asset to a group or hindrance by silencing others.
  • The Fighter: a debater ready to argue may be helpful, but could change focus of group and intimidate others
  • The Chatterer: side conversations during group time can distract and hurt community

8. Make prayer a priority for the group. Don’t just use a one-minute prayer to close your group—spend more time crying out to the living God for His help to remember and apply the truths you just discussed.

Do pray for personal requests, but focus on God’s purposes of the world: gospel preaching, unbelievers, the growth of the church in godliness, and personal growth in godliness.

9. Be intentional about evangelism. If you don’t intentionally make evangelism a priority, it often gets neglected. Pray for unbelievers to get saved, for opportunities to witness, and for the gospel to grow in your group. Have group members encourage one another and tell stories of evangelistic encounters to stimulate an outward focus. Look for opportunities to witness together to grow evangelistic zeal within the group.

10. Leaders should see themselves as shepherds, servants, and stewards—not dictators. Having a biblical view of ministry helps leaders remain healthy, realistic, and focused on God and His work in your group. See 1 Corinthians 4:1-2.

11. Gauge growth at an individual level. Growth happens at an individual level. Look at each person in your group and how they are or are not growing, and then look for the best way(s) to help them move forward in their growth.

12. Leaders should seek to utilize gifts of group members. Learn the gifts of the people in your group and seek to put them into action for the betterment of the individual and group as a whole.

13. If (and when) conflict comes, welcome it. This is an opportunity to resolve conflict with a godly attitude and encourage growth in others by asking them to change or repent of a sin.

14. Focus on the development of people, not just filling slots. Resist the temptation to fill your ministry roles with the nearest warm body. Instead, look for qualified leaders. Seek to continually develop future leaders who can multiply your ministry by multiplying the number of groups.

15. Take evaluation seriously. 1 Corinthians 3:1-15 and 4:1-5 are helpful in assessing groups. Here are 4 basic questions for evaluation stemming from 1 Corinthians 1:24—2:5:

a. Have the members been taught and do they understand the word of God—the gospel of Christ?
b. Have they responded by putting their faith in Christ?
c. Have they rejected human religious systems?
d. Do they live in love and unity toward each other?

What else would you add? Let us know in a comment.

Before You Go:


Want to learn more? Join us for Re:Growth – Implementing “The Trellis and the Vine” in your church in Palos Heights, IL on September 11, 2015.

Kevin Halloran

Servant of the Word. Husband. Blogs weekly at Anchored in Christ. Content Strategist/Trainer in Latin America with Leadership Resources International.