One of my principles of small group leadership is that everyone needs to be involved or have an opportunity to lead a discussion. My wife used to take this principle to the radical extreme. Whenever we’d have a new member, after the study, Christi would hand the study book (if we had one) to the new member and say, “We have a tradition in our group that the newest member of the group always leads the next bible study.” It sounds crazy, but it actually worked.
Obviously, we never forced this upon anyone. Usually, after a few jokes, I would say something like, “We’d love for you to lead the next discussion, but only if you want to. It’s actually quite easy. I would work with you to develop the study, and all you would really have to do is be the one asking the questions. I’d be here to help, and [random member] would keep everyone in line if they give you any trouble ;-).
Surprisingly, almost everyone took up the challenge. (A couple said they’d love to, but wanted to wait a week or two till they were more comfortable.) During the week, I’d coach them through the passage and help them develop questions (if they weren’t already provided). I gave different people different kinds of help, but my main goal was to help them feel comfortable. Once they get the idea that we are all looking at the same passage and working together to understand it and apply it to our lives, then leading the discussion really did become just a matter of getting the discussion going by asking the right questions. I’d also give them a few group facilitation tips, but almost everyone turned out to be a much better group facilitator than any of us (including themselves) expected.
- The new member instantly felt like an integral part of the group. (It worked great for group retention.)
- It allowed all of us to benefit from fresh perspectives.
- It demystified the discussion leadership process.
- It improved the quality of participation. (Everyone wanted to make sure that the new member’s first experience was a great one. They would give good input, and mind their manners.) Also everyone knew what it felt like to be the leader.
- I can’t think of one person – all personality types, education and faith levels – who didn’t rise to the occasion and blossom. It was a great confidence booster and really bonded the group.
- I’m talking about group sizes of 8-12 (beyond that, you should be thinking of splitting the group anyway.)
- This will not work if you have any “militant reformed” types people in your group. I’ve had a couple, but after a few long personal talks with them, they usually faded away.
- It works best if you have a nice quality core group of 4-6 that give the group its ethos.