Small Group Leadership: Starting From Scratch

I’m new at this.

I took on leadership of small groups at my church in early 2017. Immediately, I signed up for The Lobby – my first small group conference experience! It was exciting – and a bit intimidating, to be honest. I felt like the new kid in school. But I came home feeling encouraged, equipped, and motivated to act.

Our church has functioning small groups, but a change in leadership always offers a chance to reexamine vision and values. There is much I don’t know about leading a small group ministry – but certain principles translate easily. Since I’m probably not the only one who is starting from scratch, here are a few basic principles to remember when starting fresh:

1. Pray. Duh. This seems to be a no-brainer, but truth be told, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forged ahead with some great ministry idea – all on my own strength. I’m a leader – my default is to Get Things Done – so I have to remind myself to pray first for discernment and wisdom. I asked God to show me the right people for a leadership team; if I am going to preach with integrity that we are #bettertogether, I need to walk it from the very beginning.

2. Listen. Did I mention that I was new at this? My first act was to humbly admit that I had a lot to learn – then go about learning it. I ordered books – and read them. I made phone calls to folks like Daniel Thomas and Jason Banzhoff; I said, I’m new at this. What do I need to know? And then I listened.

3. Dream. Books, articles, conversations at The Lobby, past group experiences – I took everything I knew about small group and started dreaming about what an effective, transformative ministry might look like in our context. We couldn’t be Saddleback, or any other church; what would honor God the most where we are right now?


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4. Invite. I invited my Senior Pastor and Director of Operations to look over my initial plans. I trust them to give honest feedback; the ‘last 10%’ relationship that we’ve built enables them to redirect as needed and affirm my efforts. They helped to refine and refocus my ideas and ensure alignment with the larger ministry focus of the church.

5. Cast vision. Prayer led to five names; four agreed to meet for breakfast (bacon makes everything better!) Our conversation started with What’s your name? Tell us about your family… How’d you end up at our church? Within 20 minutes, we’d experienced the joy of the most basic small group connection! I shared my Keynote presentation: a vision for the future, the reality of where we were now, and what it will take to get us to the next step. We walked away feeling connected: A shared vision, excitement for what we sense God has in store, and a commitment to work together to achieve His purpose.

Starting from scratch means there’s a lot of blank space for God to fill with His plans. What could be better than that?


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Daniel Thomas

Connections Director


Daniel serves as Executive Pastor at Community Church of Mountain City, TN.  Daniel and his family are on a mission to establish roots within their community, fight for peace and serve well.  He serves as our Connections Director in laying the groundwork for Circles. He loves great coffee and traveling with his wife Tia and two children, Deklan and Aden



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