[BOOK REVIEW]: Field Guide for Small Group Leaders | Sam O'Neal
Sam O'Neal's Field Guide for Small Group Leaders is the book I wish I'd had ten years ago.
It was then that I led my first (failed) small group. For reasons too numerous to list, I felt as if that group failed because noticeable transformation didn't occur, either in myself or in those I was supposedly leading into a closer encounter with God and his word. It took more than a few years to see that time as a learning experience and to view small glimpses of grace given to that group despite my woeful small group leading abilities.
While Field Guide may not have solved the problems of that group, it certainly would have helped me understand what was expected of me and how best I could have served the members of that fated group.
What's a Small Group Leader to Do?
O'Neal echoes that same sentiment saying, "Many group leaders in today's churches don't have a firm grasp on what their role is supposed to be, which means they don't have a firm grasp on the goals they are trying to accomplish, which means they don't have a firm grasp at all about what they are supposed to be doing in their groups." Small group leaders I know have relayed the same thoughts to me, frustrated with church leadership that essentially says, "Here are ten people we need you to shepherd, encourage, motivate, inspire, counsel, love, call, meet with, pray for, feed, host and friend. Good luck and God bless. See you Sunday."
As the former Managing Editor for SmallGroups.com, Sam O'Neal understands the expansive scope of the phrase "small group leader." "In order to prepare for and lead a small group meeting, you will need to act as a semiexpert in theology, discipleship, Christian education, worship, prayer, interpersonal dynamics and more." Few leaders understand the weight of the mantle of a small group leader, thinking their role is simply that of a teacher. That's likely why some small groups fail to see spiritual results.
Leading Effective Small Groups
An effective small group requires a wide array of activities prepared by a prayerful leader. O'Neal calls these activities essential for a vibrant small group: fellowship, Bible study, discussion, learning activities, prayer, worship and application. If you're wondering how all of these activities (especially with larger groups) could possibly fit within two hours, you're not alone. It can be done, and done effectively, but it requires that a small group leader adds another job title to their already lengthy resume: editor.
O'Neal devotes an entire chapter to "The Big Idea," i.e. the one thing that everything within your small group meeting should center on. Like an editor, you must be ruthless in killing questions, activities and conversations that detour from the big idea. "One of your main tasks as a small group leader is to help your group members stay focused as they explore that idea or theme—it's your job to prevent the group from wandering around aimlessly." If you've ever lead a group, you know that this is one of the major challenges of small group leadership. O'Neal provides a few tips on how to stop such rampant rabbit chasing.
Worshipping and Praying Together
O'Neal believes that worship and prayer are two essential activities woefully under-utilized in small groups. I agree. Whether it's due to the fact that we believe we get our prayer and worship "fill" at church, such activities are vital to the life of a small group. O'Neal notes that worship does not have to equal singing, though it can, and suggests reading scripture aloud or taking communion together as viable alternatives to music.
Regarding prayer, he offers multiple options to keep that spiritual practice from becoming staid. If you've been in a small group long enough, you've more than likely prayed around the circle more times than you can count. O'Neal suggests using:
- concert prayer: everyone prays at the same time, out loud
- immediate prayer: a person shares a request at any time during the meeting and their need is prayed for on the spot
- subgrouping prayer: the group divides into smaller groups to pray for each other
- themed prayer: prayers center on a particular theme, i.e. "I'm thankful for . . ."
- segmented prayer: such as the ACTS guide for prayer
Additionally, be sure to center your prayer and worship around the big idea of the small group meeting.
Recommended for all Small Group Leaders
Since I've had the opportunity to both attend and lead small groups over the last decade, there's much in the book I've already learned, but those lessons didn't come easily. However, even veteran leaders will find something in Field Guide to enhance their small group meetings.
For instance, I appreciated the chapter on learning styles as that's something I had never thought about in regards to leading a group. O'Neal uses the VARK method to outline the different types of learning styles that may exist within your group, i.e. Visual, Aural, Reading, Kinesthetic. By their nature, small groups cater to aural and reading/writing learners and much less to visual and kinesthetic learners. As a reading/writing learner myself, I need to work on catering to visual and kinesthetic learners. O'Neal provides a wealth of practical advice on how to do so. You can identify your learning style at Vark-Learn.com and it's recommended that you send this link to your group members to learn their styles.
Field Guide for Small Group Leaders is perfect for new small group leaders and beneficial for veteran leaders. O'Neal does a fantastic job in presenting a wide breadth of practical information in an accessible manner. He also provides advice regarding the "dark side" of small group leading, like what to do when a group member gets too emotional, or when conflict arises, or when a member keeps causing trouble in your group. Each chapter is easily digestible, but you'll get the most out of the book if you study it with other small group leaders and begin incorporating its suggestions in your own small group.
Field Guide for Small Group Leaders by Sam O'Neal is published by Intervarsity Press.
How has being involved in a small group, whether as a member or a leader, helped you on your spiritual walk?Buy Now