Editor's Note
: The following is a report on the practical applications of Tara Miller and Jenn Peppers' new book,
 Finding the Flow: A Guide for Small Group Facilitators (InterVarsity Press, 2009).    

Small groups are at their best when they meet two key needs: people’s need to be known, and their need to be connected to something bigger than themselves. But too often, small groups focus on just one of those needs and neglect the other.

If your small group focuses just on relationships, it will eventually implode because it doesn’t address people’s hunger for God. But if your group focuses just on Bible study, it will fail to change people’s lives since it doesn’t help them live out their faith through relationships with God and each other.

So build a small group that encourages people to study Scripture in a relational way, and you’ll find the flow that will unleash God’s Spirit into your group. Here’s how:

Get to know your values, and live them out in the group. Think and pray about what you value most as a group leader: holding to the stated agenda, spontaneity, advance planning, powerful moments, vulnerability, sense of humor, intellectual depth, etc. Identify your real motives for leading the group, and ask God to purify them. Rather than trying to imitate another group leader who’s been successful with his or her group, be yourself and lead from your strengths. Instead of trying to use a formula to lead the group, facilitate it in a way that honors your values and uses your gifts.

Make your group emotionally intelligent. Get to know your emotional triggers, biases, and tendencies, so you won’t allow them to interfere with your group. From a lack of self-confidence that prevents you from taking risks to a drive to prove your worth that comes across looking like arrogance, emotions can prevent you from being effective as a group leader if you don’t notice and identify them. Try these emotionally healthy practices when leading your group: Be willing to be uncomfortable and discuss difficult emotions; Don’t pressure yourself to have it all together; Bounce back after a negative experience; Don’t take too much control; Don’t keep the conversation theoretical but bring it down to a real level; Deal with all necessary business that relates to the discussion topics; Fill your own weak spots in leadership with other group members’  strengths; Be willing to change when it’s best to do so; Deal with conflict among group members promptly; Set a positive example as a leader; Don’t take complaints personally or let your frustrations interfere with the group’s progress; Establish enough time for relationships to develop before reaching the group’s objectives; and Reveal personal struggles at the right time and in the right ways.

Move your group through its natural life stages well. Throughout the course of each small group’s life, it’s natural for it to move through various developmental stages. In the gathering stage, people want to figure out what they’re here for and whether they can trust others in the group. If you encourage people to risk sharing their thoughts and feelings honestly with each other and discover and express their values from the beginning, you’ll likely get through the gathering stage well. In the negotiating stage, people are wondering who’s in charge and how they fit into the group. Create an environment for people to say what’s really on their minds and give them a chance to be heard. Validate and respect their opinions, even if you don’t agree with them. In the momentum stage, the group is rolling along comfortably. But you need to be careful that people don’t get too comfortable. If nothing new or interesting happens in the group, members may start to get bored and pull away from participating. Keep adding fresh energy to the group, either by inviting new people or adding new activities. Make sure that everyone in the group still feels a sense of belonging. In the serving stage, group members want to accomplish a mission outside the group to make a positive difference in the world. Pray together about how God may want your group to serve. Once you’re clear about what specific type of service to pursue, put your faith into action and give every group member a chance to contribute. In the closure stage, it’s time for people in the group to move on because the group has accomplished its purpose. Instead of just letting the group fade away, reminisce – sharing stories, learning from mistakes, and celebrating how God has worked in your lives and all that you’ve accomplished together.  Talk about new directions for the future in each of your lives, and bless and encourage each other.