Training Small Group Leaders


When we first launched small groups at National Community Church, we designed a three-hour, in-person training to prepare potential leaders. We packed in as much as we could—theology of community, icebreakers and snacks, raising up apprentice leaders, asking powerful questions, and choosing study material. But there were so many other topics: navigating conflict, dealing with incessant talkers, mobilizing groups to serve, multiplying groups without blowing them up, proving pastoral care…the list was building. Every issue was important. Every topic was critical. But training was quickly becoming a six-month process.

We had run into a content challenge.

At the same time, the types of groups we were offering was expanding. Training leaders who were focused on minor prophets and leaders focused on the Fruit of the Spirit provided plenty of need for nuance in training. But add to that complexities of activity-based, service-focused, or vocationally centered groups, and we found we needed even more focused and specialized training for the vast opportunities we were offering.

We had run into a context challenge.

Finally, the church was growing and we had gone multi-site. We found it was becoming increasingly difficult to gather potential leaders in one place at one time for on-site training.

We had run into a scalability challenge.

How do you deliver the right content for the right context in a way that is repeatable and scalable?

Take a big step back and ask two questions:

What kind of training do we need to deliver?

What is the best route to deliver it?

We needed to envision leaders, train them, and care for them. We needed to help first-time leaders and long-time leaders. We needed to equip them to lead themselves well, to create community, and to make disciples.

We recognized there were three primary ways to deliver training:

  • Event/platform
  • Resources (print and digital)
  • Personal coaching

Regardless of your model of small groups or philosophies of training, these three vehicles may be helpful to strategically and intentionally focus and maximize your small group leader training.


This type of training is good for rallying leaders, for celebrating what is happening in groups, for the shaping and impartation of culture, and for casting vision. They are not the best environments for focused training, pastoral care, or the communication of information.

We do this type of training three times a year in an environment called Leadership Summit. Because we operate on a trimester group rhythm, we schedule them at the beginning of a semester to infuse energy into new and returning leaders. Our lead pastor is always there to cast vision; we want our leaders to know where God is taking us. The training is focused on topics that are relevant to all leaders—like leading yourself well or basics of community and discipleship. And we leverage all our creative energies—videos that highlight and celebrate certain groups or leaders, swag (T-shirts, mugs, pop sockets, water bottles, and so forth) for leaders in attendance, and our best worship bands from across locations. 


The second delivery mechanism is a resource. That can be print (book, article) or digital (podcast, video, email).

While resources aren’t great for casting vision or building excitement, they are excellent for sharing information and offering more in-depth training.

Instead of using platform time at an event to give important dates or details on important events, why not create a monthly email that goes to all leaders? It can also contain value-add elements like articles or links to podcasts that could be helpful to leaders.

We also create training videos for two primary purposes: New Group Leader Training and On-Demand Training.

The online training platform solved the content, context, and scalability problems of new leader training. We reduced the barrier to small group leadership entry by creating an online video-based training that could be completed anytime and anywhere and only covered the very basic things a leader would need to know on their first night. Each video is followed by a series of questions that gauge the readiness of a leader to apply the principles in their unique context. Thus, the training moved from a one-way platform delivery to a two-way conversation.

For all other training concepts, we created a library of on-demand training. This library continues to grow as we step into new situations, discover new questions, and find new challenges that group leaders face.

Personal Coaching

Finally, coaching is the way we provide care, accountability, and troubleshooting for our group leaders. In huddle environments or one-on-one meetings, we provide the most specific and personal training. Often, those environments will provide space to discuss a resource (article, video, or podcast) that was sent to them earlier in the week. Other times, it’s just a conversation to see how the leader is doing and where they need prayer, support, or guidance with their group.

Don’t wait to find the perfect model. Just start training. And determine what vehicle is the best way to deliver different types of content.


Author Bio

Heather Zempel is the Discipleship Pastor and Campus Ministries Director at National Community Church in Washington, DC. She is the author of several books, including Big Change, Small Groups. She lives on Capitol Hill with her husband, Ryan, and energetic daughter, Sawyer. She loves growing as a leader, discipling the next generation, and watching SEC football.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @heatherzempel

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