Yesterday was the first in a series of blog posts highlighting Jim Egli and the findings described in the book he co-wrote with Dwight Marable. Their book, Small Groups Big Impact
is changing the way many churches are doing small groups. When I read the book I was especially blindsided by some of the outcomes of their research in the area of leadership. This part of the interview is focused solely on the small group leader. Put your seat-belt on!
Rick: Choosing the right leaders is vital to a healthy small group ministry. Some of us, including me, have been or were at one time, espousing a list of specific requirements for anyone who was to be an effective small group leader. What does your research tell us concerning what characteristics are necessary for effective small group leadership?
Jim: This was another surprising discovery. We looked at all kinds of small group leader characteristics and variables. There was no correlation between personality types and small group growth. I thought perhaps extroverts would be more successful in growing their groups than introverts. But that showed no difference. There was also no correlation with what the leaders’ spiritual gifts are. I thought that leaders with the gift of evangelism or perhaps the gift of teaching would have more rapidly growing groups.
Actually nothing outside of a leader’s control impacts growth. A leader can’t control what their personality type is, or what their primary spiritual gifts are. They also can’t control things like their age or gender. None of these things matter.
Everything that mattered, everything that showed a significant positive correlation to small group health and growth related to actively loving God and others, and empowering others in ministry and leadership. Everything that mattered was a behavior not a personality trait or a demographic variable.
Rick: Jim, I believe some of the people who read this blog are going to shake their heads in wonderment when it comes to small group leaders and the requirements for an effective small group leader. Were you surprised by what the data revealed?
Jim: Yes, I was surprised that absolutely none of the personality or gifting variables matter. I would have guessed that at least a handful of them would correlate to small group growth.
It jarred my leadership paradigm. It meant that anyone that could love God and others could lead successfully. All of a sudden, I didn’t have to look for people who had a certain disposition or a certain personality type or gifting. I just had to look for people who were open to God and wanting to move forward with him.
Rick: Jim, tell us one story of someone in your church who wouldn’t make the list of great leaders as judged by the John Maxwellian style of leadership. Tell us about the life-change that has taken place in the lives of the individuals who are part of that leader’s group?
Jim: I always think of a guy named Matt in our church. It used to puzzle me why his group grew so rapidly and why the group saw God work in people’s lives in such powerful ways. Matt has little formal education. He’s rough around the edges. He’s not polished or organized. I used to wonder: “Why is his group so magnetic? Why are people encountering God in such life-changing ways through this so-so leader?” The research helped me see what I didn’t have eyes to see before. The magic—so to speak—was not in the meeting, it was the presence of God at work in the relationships and how the members cared for one another and others and how they prayed and saw God work in deep and powerful ways. It’s not about gifting, it’s about loving God and others. When a leader connects to God and group members practically love one another and others, people are drawn to the group and into relationship with Jesus.
Rick: For many of us, your research demands that we revisit how we go about training our small group leaders. What topics, themes, and practices do you now believe are most important if we’re going to train highly effective small group leaders?
Jim: We probed and looked at hundreds of variables but we found out there are just four key things—pray, reach, care and empower. Leaders need to connect with God. Group members need to reach out to others beyond their group and love each other. Leaders need to give ministry away and call others into leadership. It’s not complicated.
Rick: Jim, is there a book, on-line document, DVD driven resource etc… out there that a small group pastor can pick up for the training of small group leaders in this new paradigm?
The Small Groups, Big Impact
book can be used as a guide either for a class or for mentoring new leaders. There are practical discussion and application questions at the end of each chapter. ChurchSmart has also released my small group leader training on DVDs for just $59. It’s called “How to Lead a High Impact Small Group
Rick: Where can a small group pastor get these resources?