10 Habits of Highly Effective Small Group Leaders

Steve Gladen, pastor of small groups at Saddleback Church for more than a decade, gives brilliant advice to take your small group to the next level. What makes a group system thrive? Definitely, strong leadership, welcoming groups, small group guidelines. Saddleback’s success from small groups comes from it’s focus on health. He balances the biblical purposes of fellowship, discipleship, ministry, worship and evangelism.

1. Don’t do all the talking

The best leaders facilitate conversations rather than dispensing information. The best leaders strive to facilitate the conversation and keep it moving from member to member rather than talking to the members.

2. Be comfortable with silence

Embrace the 15 seconds of silence which seem to be like an eternity. Realize that through silence, the Holy Spirit is working on people. Learn to be comfortable with the ambiguity

3. Be a good listener

So simple yet so hard to do. Don’t just listen – actively listen. James 1:19 tells us to be slow to speak and quick to listen. The best leaders listen with their eyes and ears

4. Don’t answer your own questions

The whole purpose of asking the question is to create an environment where group members feel safe to share. It’s not about getting the right answer. When people are silent with some of these questions, embrace the silence. If no one really speaks you could say something like, “Paul, you look like you were going to say something…”

5. Ask open-ended questions

Open-ended questions help group members to tell more than a simple yes or no. Questions like, “What did you like about the verse or chapter of the book?” will bring up more than yes/no questions. Use what or how questions to get people to open up

6. Make sure everyone understands the purpose of the group from day one

Your job as a leader is to cast a compelling vision. Keep that purpose at the forefront of every small group meetings and look for ways to promote vision casting

7. Try to involve everyone

Your group might be too big if everyone isn’t able to speak their thoughts. Groups of over eight members will have difficulty doing this. In those cases, it’s best to divide the group into half.

8. Remember, the focus is not on getting through the material

Know that if you are very task oriented, you may tend to concentrate more on getting through study than allowing group members the time they need to discuss, process, and grow with the information.

9. Pray

Pray before your group meeting, after your group meeting, and during group meetings. Pray in between group meetings. Ask God for his help and leading. It is helpful to make a list of prayer requests and keep them on a bedside table so you can be every specific in your prayer request.

10. Remember that God is in charge

You were not selected to lead this group on your own. God chose you. He will be with you. Trust in His power and lean on him for support.


  • I like how much of this if focused on getting the group participants to be active in the discussion. I’ve been in several small groups where the leader feels he has to fill every void with his own voice. Unfortunately he ends up drowning out a lot of other voices that have something useful for the group. There is certainly a skill at being a small group leader, it’s not as easy as it seems.

  • I love this, Paul. I’ve been in numerous small groups in the past 44 years so have lots of experience. You rocked it here with your habits which are key to bring an effective facilitator. Here are two more. 1. Don’t make anyone feel guilty or shamed if they didn’t do their homework. At least they showed up. Let God do the convicting if that’s needed. 2. Don’t put someone on the spot to answer questions. If you know they have a story to tell or if you really want their input, ask them in advance so they can be prepared or can also say they would rather not be called upon.

    This is a topic most of us can relate to.

  • Paul, This is a great list of habits for small group leaders. Over time, I have come to the realization that a small group leader’s habits should be based on love for the other group members. I am referring to God’s definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. If a leader does this, the habits you list will likely be an outgrowth. If the leader “fails” in some way, members tend to overlook it if the leader has been showing this kind of love.

  • Alex Tran

    This is very helpful as I’m leading my small group at work. As a member of Saddleback Church, I tangibly see the fruits of the small groups…and this definitely works! Thank you for summing this up.