2 Unintended Consequences of the Idea That “Anyone Can Lead a Group”

Over a decade ago, many small group pastors began to communicate messages such as “Anyone can lead a small group” and “If you can press play and make coffee, you can lead a small group.”

For some of these churches, these messages were a way to help change the perception of what it takes to be a small group leader so that more people would view themselves as able to launch and lead a group. The logic among staff and small group pastors played out like this:

  • Problem: We are having a difficult time launching enough groups to move people from merely attending a worship service to being cared for in community.
  • Solution: We need to launch new small groups.
  • Problem: To launch new groups, we need new group leaders. But some of the people in our church view leading a group as “teaching a class” and not very many people feel they are good teachers.
  • Solution: We must change the perception of what it means to be a group leader. We need a larger pool to recruit from. Let’s make it easier to be a group leader.

And the “anyone can be a small group leader” language was born. The motivation behind the message was good—and a motivation I don’t want to see lost—getting more people into groups, more people into biblical community. But there are at least two unintended consequences to the “anyone can be a group leader” mantra:

1) Leaders that are hosts, not shepherds

There is some incongruent and inconsistent messaging occurring in many churches. You really can’t say, “Anyone can be a small group leader,” AND, “If you want to be cared for and known in our church, get plugged into a group.” Those two messages contradict one another at the most basic leadership level. If the group leadership bar is lowered, then so should the promise of what the group can provide.

Not just “anyone” can shepherd and care for a group of people. If the groups in a church are intended to provide care, accountability, and biblical community, then not just “anyone” can lead them. If “anyone” can lead them, then the groups cannot possibly be expected to provide nurture and community that is rooted in the Word.

If a church recruits from the posture that “anyone can lead a group,” then the church is more likely to have hosts and not leaders who desire to shepherd and care for people. A host can facilitate a session, but it takes a leader to lead people. A host can ask questions from a page, but it takes a leader to care for the person too beat up from life to attempt to answer. A host can ask a question, but it takes a leader who is on board with the theology of the church to be able to guide the discussion. We need more disciple-making leaders, not merely more facilitators. 

2) Groups that are for consumption, not development

If all it takes to lead a group is “pressing play and making coffee,” then we shouldn’t be surprised if the end result is groups that merely consume information. If groups are designed to be integral in a church’s disciple-making process, then groups must be more than consumption centers. The groups must understand that they are in community together, to develop one another, to care for one another, and to grow together. If the group is going to be about more than consumption, then the leader must view his/her role as much deeper than merely pressing play or reading a list of questions.

Again, the desire to change the perception of who can lead a small group was healthy. We don’t need lecturers without hearts to lead people. But in some churches the pendulum swung too far. Not just “anyone” can or should be able to lead a group.

Church leaders are wise to prayerfully discuss and clarify who should be a group leader and what a group leader’s responsibilities are. The specifics and language will vary from church to church but surely will include men/women of character who walk with the Lord, who affirm the doctrinal positions of the church, and who desire community that cares for people and seeks to see them transformed into the image of Christ. In other words, not just anyone.