Mark your 2017-2018 church calendars now if you want to purposely connect your Bible study small group leaders well, according to these highly experienced leaders: Gwynne Johnson, Sheryl Graves, and Crickett Keeth. Which of their suggestions would work best for your group?
Q: Describe your Bible study and its small group leader team.
Gwynne: I’m teaching a weekly study that includes student homework, small group discussion, and lecture which lasts an hour and forty minutes. We provide notes for followup study. We have 5 discussion group leaders and a couple of subs.
Sheryl: We are a mid-size church with a 2-hour women’s Tuesday morning bible study of 8-10 groups. Our Wednesday evening study meets for 90 minutes and is composed of 4 small groups. Each small group has 2 leaders.
Crickett: Our women’s Bible study meets on Tuesday mornings and Wednesday nights with a total of 17-180 women with 19-20 small group leaders.
Q: How often do the small group leaders in your Bible study connect and how is that time spent?
Gwynne: We meet each week for a leaders’ meeting at 8 a.m. for 1 hour and 15 minutes. The early hour is challenging…but important. We go over the lesson they will be leading that week. The main goal for meeting is preparation for leading their small groups; but also to provide prayer and support for the leaders. This proves to be an important encouragement for leaders. We have prayer for 15-20 minutes, with sharing and then cover the lesson questions weekly. We stay in touch between meetings via email or group text. One of the leaders is a faithful scribe that keeps us posted. We meet in the summer for a luncheon to prepare for the fall.
Sheryl: Our morning bible study leaders meet once a month for a 90 minute working lunch after Bible study. Our evening bible study leaders meet for a 60 minute dinner 3 times per semester before Bible study. We ask our small group leaders to participate in a 1 semester training to equip them to facilitate small group discussion and give them opportunities to practice with their training group before co-leading their own group, then try to pair them with a more experienced facilitator. This helps connect our leaders relationally and jump starts them for success as a group leader, so there’s less training needed as we go. This allows us to opt for monthly meetings instead of weekly, making it an easier commitment for our leaders.
Our goals for the monthly meetings are engaging relationally, sharing successes, troubleshooting problems, reviewing our objectives and desire outcomes, and highlighting any clarifications or potential controversial topics in the lessons they’ll be covering before our next meeting.
Crickett: I always have a Leaders’ Training in the fall, the week before the Bible study begins to bring the leaders together and remind them of the vision. Why are we doing Bible study? What do we want to see happen in the small groups? I usually introduce the study to them, and go over introductory questions for them to cover the first week. I also like to do something fun with them at the training to get to know one another better. Most of my leaders have been doing this for a while, but I always have some new leaders each year.
Then we meet for 35 minutes before the small group time each week, in which I go over the key questions to ask, and we discuss them together. Also, it gives them a chance to ask me questions if there’s confusion on a question. Another purpose we have is just to build community among the leaders. We share prayer requests each week via group email before our meetings.
Then at the end of the year (not at the end of each study), we have a wrap-up time to evaluate the studies, the group dynamics, and talk about any issues or problems that came up.
Q: What is essential to your regular meetings?
Gwynne: I believe the commitment to confidential prayer for one another is a key ingredient in building a strong team. We pray for each other and have emphasized short, specific prayers for our personal concerns. We also spend one session at the beginning more focused on training in small group dynamics as well.
Sheryl: A safe and supportive environment. To build the culture of collaboration we desire, our leaders need to feel safe in being vulnerable. If our leaders feel safe to be honest, and we remember that we’re all just “one beggar helping another beggar to find bread”, we can grow better together. That means resisting the temptation to be the expert in the room, and inviting the perspective of others.
Crickett: The essentials in the meetings are prayer together and group discussion. My leaders open up and are transparent with one another in the discussion time.
Q: How do you evaluate whether you have achieved your goals?
Gwynne: As the year progresses the leaders grow together as a team and the leaders meeting “bonds” the newer members with older ones. Personal burdens shared in confidence lead to deeper personal relationships.
Sheryl: I spend some time after each meeting processing and praying about what we discussed. Did we cover everything? Are the group leaders encouraged and excited, or are they showing signs of fatigue & discouragement? Are we staying on task? Do they feel supported in their role? Are there any patterns developing? How can we improve? What is God wanting to address? I also look for opportunities to connect one-on-one with as many leaders as I can outside of our study or meetings to see how they’re doing, how they think the meeting went, and hear any feedback they may have.
Crickett: Do they feel confident in leading the group discussion when they leave the leaders’ meeting before the study each week? And when they come to the lecture after the small group time, they will often share how great their group discussion was.
Q: What suggestions do you have for a church that has never planned regular meetings or wants to better connect their Bible study small group leadership team?
Gwynne: In many ways the relationships developed from sharing prayer and support is the “reward” to the leaders for the time they invest in serving their groups. Our discussion over the questions is often deeper, and I frequently add insights that I won’t be sharing in the lecture with the leaders only. Even if a group cannot meet each week, regular meetings of the leadership provides a peer support network that will enhance their leading and build a loving and supportive group.
Sheryl: That was our history. We began with just 2 meetings: a prayer & planning meeting the week before we began and a praise and process meeting the week after it ended. Then we added a mid-study check-in lunch after bible study (or dinner before). As awareness of the value of these meetings grew, we went to 2 mid-study meals. Eventually, we went to our current schedule, as they grew to value the support even more. All our leaders meetings are scheduled in advance and listed in the leaders schedule for the semester. We also send a reminder email the week before our next meeting.
Crickett: I encourage them to try to meet before the small group time each week – just to touch base and make sure they’re feeling ready and confident, and questions answered. Even if it’s just for thirty minutes, it’s worth it. It’s harder for us to meet on Wednesday nights because we’re tied to the dinner schedule and other Wed. night activities which have to begin at the same time. But my leaders love going over the questions before they lead. (I only cover questions I think are key for them to discuss in the small groups.)
Thank you to our expert guests. If you have suggestions or questions, contact us at BOW to discuss your specific situation or for prayer as you process these ideas.