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Christian Counseling - Leading Small Groups

If you have led a small group, such as a study, prayer or support group, you know the joy that comes with the position. It is a wonderful experience to see others' positive changes because of group interactions and your leadership. A small group is the most effective human change agent available, even more so when the Spirit is invited to be a part. Aside from the possible growth from a catastrophic event, a group experience has the greatest potential to be life-changing.

To achieve or enhance this outcome, a leader(s) must have a knowledge of group dynamics and have developed organizational and relational skill sets. It is not enough to have a good heart, and know the material to be presented, though these are essential. Members look to the leader for spoken and unspoken rules and guidelines about group process and content. Therefore, everything a leader does, says and doesn't influences every aspect of the group--atmosphere, self-disclosure, sense of community, interactions, freedom to be one's self, member growth, etc.

It is most often the subtle, indirect or nonverbal communications of a leader that create, intentionally or not, an understanding as to what is okay and not in the group. For example, a leader of a non-therapy small group must be self-disclosing in order for the members to reveal themselves, regardless of a leaders direct invitation to open sharing. His or her comfortability with conflict, or lack of, informs the group whether or not they are free to discuss problems with other members or suggest changes to the group structure (time, format, etc.).

A group cannot grow beyond the level of the leader. What a leader knows or not, or has and has not worked through in his or her personal life will either propel the group to new heights or prevent them from growing. His or her strengths and weaknesses are absolutely related to the successes and failures of the small group, but are not the only reasons for them. What a leader fears will be avoided in the group, just as his or her openness to members' new thoughts and ideas will encourage group self-revelation and self-acceptance.

Here are a few other essential leader characteristics and skills necessary for a healthy and successful small group:

1. Facilitating change that comes equally from study materials and group interactions.
2. Openness to the power, influence and direction of the group as a whole.
3. Balancing accomplishing tasks and keeping relationships intact.
4. Attending to both group process (member behavior) and group content (issues being discussed).
5. Developing a theory of group dynamics (i.e., stages groups pass through).
6. Flexibility to allow and reveal group conflict and let the here-and-now experience inform and guide problem solving.

These and other characteristics require much self-understanding and study of human behavior, regardless of one's level of development. Having a couple of experienced people to talk with about starting, developing, and managing a group is necessary for the growth of leaders and members.

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