I have loved coaching kid’s sports teams, especially basketball. One of the most rewarding parts of coaching for me is taking a rag-tag group of kids who don’t know one another at the beginning of a season and turning them into a team—a team that works together as one, each using his unique abilities for the good of the whole. A team that wins because five are better than one. It takes a lot of effort to build this teamwork—lots of drills and time spent together, both in and outside of practices and games. I love the way Coach John Wooden said it years ago, and I still share this quote with my teams: “It takes 10 hands to score a basket.”

Building a productive team as a small group is much the same. It takes intentional effort, both inside and outside group meeting times. It takes team-building drills such as these:

  • Go on a camping or hiking trip together and give each person a specific assignment.
  • Play a game such a volleyball, paintball, or a role-playing game against another group.
  • Participate in a shared work experience or serving opportunity.
  • Identify a common “enemy” or challenge together.

Guide Them to Authentic Community

One of the first things you do as a leader is build relationships with the members of the group. This should begin way before the first meeting.

Finding Your Group

If you are just getting started and do not have group members yet, start with prayer. Ask God to show you exactly who he wants in your group. Then keep your eyes open to whom he will send. It’s highly likely—but not absolute—that these will be people already in your circle, people you already know. They may be friends, neighbors, co-workers, people you serve with or otherwise know from church, for instance.

To keep your eyes open for whom God sends, ask him for the spiritual eyes to see. In John 1:47-49, when Jesus saw Nathanael approaching him, he said, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” This surprised Nathanael: “How do you know me?” he asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” How did Jesus “see” Nathanael, whom he had never met? He had been praying that the Father would make known to him those whom the Father was going to give him out of the world (John 17:6).

Several years ago, I started a new “turbo group” (a small group that lasts about three to twenty-four months in which every member is a leader-in-training and will begin a new group at the conclusion of the group). When I first began planning it, I knew that the selection of this group would be critical to the future of our small group ministry. So I decided not to “recruit” the group or even make a list of names. Instead, I prayed every day that God would bring them. Because I believed these would be future leaders in our small group ministry, I did what the World’s Greatest Small Group Leader said to do: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:38). I also asked for God to give me the eyes to see them when they came.

Larry walked in the front door of our office building one day and asked to see the small group minister. I reluctantly set aside my turbo group planning and went out to meet him, a bit dismayed by the unannounced intrusion into my work—I thought the visitor was a salesperson. I soon discovered that Larry and his wife Glenda had been led to Christ by Ralph Neighbour, one of the pioneers of small group ministry. Larry and Glenda had spent years in ministry themselves, and had recently moved to Louisville, looking for a church where they could be involved. Larry wanted to get back to his passion for discipleship in small groups.

I had known Chris and Tiffany for several years. Chris works on our backstage crew and has a huge servant’s heart. I saw Chris standing around one Sunday morning before the service. It seemed odd to me that he apparently had nothing to do. Something inside me told me to go over and talk to him. I obeyed, but had no idea why. On my walk over, God told me—and it was extremely clear—to ask Chris to be in the group. I stopped for a moment in the middle of our lobby. Chris is a successful home builder in our area, but I had not yet considered him as a potential small group leader. Finally, I obeyed, told Chris about the group, and invited him. I expected him to say he’d have to think about it, but he immediately said, “Yeah! I’m in!” He went on to tell me that he and Tiffany had just talked and then prayed about getting into a small group the night before.

The stories about how each of the other members came and how I knew them are also unique and amazing. Each one is a testimony to the fact that God is the Chief Shepherd and the Lord of the Harvest!

-Michael C. Mack, World’s Greatest Small Group

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