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5 Things I've Learned About Leading a Small Group

Self | Sarah Swartz | 5 mins

Hi there! My name is Sarah. My husband Nate and I have been leading a young adult small group for over two years. If you aren’t sure what I mean by “small group,” you can learn more about groups, or reach out to Sun Valley. We know that just because something works for our group, doesn’t mean it will always work for everyone, but we wanted to share some things that we’ve learned along the way. 

1. Icebreakers are still cool (and necessary) 

Our small group meets once a week, and we start every get-together with an icebreaker! Yes, every meeting. The icebreaker can be a fun question, a quick game, or a silly competition. We have seen that icebreakers are a fun way to continue learning about each other, strengthen community, and quickly build common ground. 

2. Worship is important

After we’ve had some fun with our icebreaker, we go into one song of worship. We are lucky enough to have a few musicians in our group who play guitar and lead us in song, but it wasn’t always that way. We used to do “iPod” worship by picking out a song on YouTube. 

When people come to group, it’s usually after a busy day at work. Life is happening at full speed, and there are a million things on our minds. We use this one song of worship to help our hearts transition into our time of Bible study. Before worship, we pray something like, “Lord, help us transition our hearts to be totally present here. Teach our souls to slow down so that we can receive what you would have for us.”

We have felt the room shift after worship because each person had a few moments to breath and reflect. 

3. Don’t own hospitality alone

Nathan and I host small group at our home, which means once a week, we run around wiping down counters, cleaning toilets, and vacuuming the floors. (Okay, I have to give Nathan 100% credit for vacuuming because I would make people walk all over my crunchy tile).

One way we alleviate ourselves of responsibility is by creating a snack sign up. Whoever is responsible for bringing snacks comes 5-10 minutes early to help set up snacks, name tags (we will talk about this in a moment), and drinks. 

4. Stay outsider-focused 

What I’m about to say might not apply to you, but this is something Nathan and I believe with our entire beings: “We exist for those who are not here yet.” This is a Sun Valley-ism that you may hear in a message from time to time.

To us, this means that anyone should be able to walk into our group and feel like there is a place for them, where they can be known, and they are loved. 

A few things we do to ensure we are outsider-focused:

● Everyone wears a name tag. It might seem strange that friends we have known for 2+ years wear a name tag at our house but we think it’s important for a newcomer to feel like they know each person’s name and are known by others.
● Ice breaker (see #1).
● We “reserve” a seat. If we know someone new is joining us, we will tape their name to a seat. In my head, this communicates (Please read in Buddy the Elf voice), “HI! YOU’RE HERE! We have been waiting for you and we are so excited you are here.” 

5. Who is leading next? 

I could write an entire blog about this. Actually, I probably will. Something to think about if you are leading a small group is, “If I left this group, would it still continue?” If the answer is no, identify a few people who you think could develop into leaders. After you identify people who could lead a small group, here are some next steps: 

Week 1: Have them observe you as a leader. Debrief afterwards. 
Week 2: Have them be part of the planning process. Debrief afterwards.
Week 3: Have them plan and facilitate a small part of the group (game, worship, prayer). Debrief afterwards. 
Week 4: Have them plan and facilitate the entire group. Debrief afterwards.

Nathan and I realized that we should have been identifying leaders earlier on and giving them pieces of the group meeting to take ownership of. Our group has become more consistent, powerful, and meaningful as we’ve allowed others to take ownership of our time together. 

If you’re ready to disciple others by leading a small group, you can sign up here!

Written By

Sarah Swartz

Avid learner, recovering over-committer, and lover of pancakes. Sarah finds adventure in all things and will bring up how cool her husband, Nate, is whenever she gets the chance.

Published on Jan 3, 2023