How to Assemble a Small Group Leadership Team

A healthy small group ministry requires a variety of leaders for it to run smoothly. Here are the leaders you need to search for.

Excerpted from
Planning Small Groups with Purpose
By Steve Gladen


As your plans coalesce, keep reminding yourself that you are better together. Maybe you have heard the adage, “If you want to move fast, go alone. If you want to move far, go together.” Don’t build this plan in isolation! Build on your strengths and strengthen your weaknesses through the strengths of others. Many leaders naturally tend to think they can do it better and faster alone. But no one person will think of everything. You need others. Embrace people to help better you; don’t just assume more people will merely get in your way.

Who can you pull into your teams? Who can you challenge to help make an eternal difference in your church? Who will help you accomplish cultural change? Who will help you launch your ministry plan?

What teams and players will you need? Let me overview a few of the key parts most small group ministries need, especially as they grow.


Small group leaders are the bedrock of any size ministry because they are your frontline leaders. As I will explain later, at Saddleback we call them Hosts. We take all who are willing to form groups with two or more friends, and we develop them into Christ followers who reflect Jesus’s Great Commission and great commandment in their hearts and in the hearts of others. We train Hosts to help all group members discover their passions and take ownership of some responsibility in the group. We also keep Hosts watching for and delegating tasks to upcoming leaders, whom we refer to informally as Future Hosts (some may call them apprentices or co-leaders). We identify people’s roles of responsibility in a relational environment through their practical functions, not through titles.

We identify Hosts and their small groups in four categories, each requiring different amounts and types of care:

• New groups. These receive priority care. We know the devil likes to kill things young (like when he used Pharaoh in trying to kill baby Moses and Herod in trying to kill baby Jesus), so we give new groups proactive care, as they are the most vulnerable. These Hosts receive three contacts from Community Leaders (coaches) within their first six weeks, and then we evaluate next steps for the Host and the group. We encourage a new Host to complete CLASS 101.
• Seasoned groups. These receive personal care. Their Hosts have completed Leader Training 1 (described later), understand personal and group health, and have signed the Host Covenant. They are seasoned, but we still give them proactive monthly care.
• Veteran groups. These receive preferred care. Their Hosts have completed Leader Training 2, have established a group plan and implement their plan for group health. They choose how we interact with them monthly—personally or by cell, email, text or social media. They have earned the right to be trusted.
• Stubborn groups. These receive persistent care. These Hosts are late adopting our paradigm because they are either cautious or skeptical. We still love them and make monthly calls to pray with them, satisfied to leave prayers as messages if they don’t answer.


Coaches are the experienced “leaders of leaders,” and they become important as soon as a small group ministry grows beyond the point person’s ability to care relationally for the small group leaders. At Saddleback we call our coaches Community Leaders (CLs), and they build relationships with a handful of Hosts, coming alongside to provide the care that I described above.

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Some of our CLs specialize in one category of small group, and others care for a mix of categories. Aside from the CL’s preferences, geography plays the largest role in assigning small groups to each CL. The ratio of CL to groups varies, depending on the category of groups. One CL can typically care for about twenty-five small groups of mixed categories.

Saddleback’s small group ministry is large enough that we have another layer of leaders, called Small Group Pastors, who care for CLs. Though every connection should be relational, at this level our Small Group Pastor’s dealings with CLs can be more “minister to minister,” since CLs are experienced and fully committed and need a different relational process than Hosts.

Throughout this book I refer to all of the leaders between the small group point person (or pastor) and small group leaders as “infrastructure.”


This is probably you—the volunteer or paid staff who directly oversees the small group ministry. This person develops and implements the plan for the small group ministry as the house-to-house component of church life, keeping in view any or all of this book’s five phases or “home” areas as they apply to their church paradigm (chapters 5–9). They build health in their groups and guard against drift, keeping the ministry’s development on course, working on the ministry more than in it. For any size church I recommend the point person share the oversight task by developing a team of key ministry leaders who help work on the ministry. I call this the C-Team.


Most businesses have a C-Suite—the CEO, CFO, COO, CTO, and so on—the top executives, the brain trust that keeps the business on track. Rather than “suite,” I prefer the word “team” from the sports arena, where one person calls the plays and a team makes it happen. Each player knows his or her role, and together they are better than the individual. You will always be the one driving the process forward, but eventually you will need people around you.

When I first started at Saddleback, I performed all the functions that my C-Team now performs. I later realized that by not giving away the ministry, I was hurting myself and robbing others of opportunities to use their giftedness and pursue their passions. Furthermore, we all need cheerleaders. We’re more likely to do anything difficult—working out, dieting, keeping a commitment—when someone else does it with us. You’ll find both motivation and wisdom in a team with which you connect in relationships. This team is so important that I will share about it in depth.

Your leader coaches may make good C-Team members, but often not. Most coaches are high on caring and low on planning, and your C-Team needs some strong planners. In your search for your C-Team, don’t overlook anyone anywhere in your small groups or in your church. For these roles, you should be more concerned about gifting than where people have fit historically in your organization.

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Look for capability and availability. Capable C-Team members are passionate about their responsibilities on the team and appropriately gifted. As for availability, I have discovered that passionate people don’t always look at their calendars before committing. As much as it may pain you, make sure your recruits have time to do the job right or you’ll end up with nothing more than a name on a line. Asking the hard questions up front will pay off in the long run.

Choose people who think holistically about your small group ministry. They need to help develop effective infrastructure to support small group leaders. Some of my C-Team members also serve as Small Group Pastors or Community Leaders, but the C-Team is so important that I don’t expect its members to do double duty.

Just as relational connection is vital within your ministry, it is also vital between your ministry and other church ministries. Your C-Team can help as ambassadors to senior church leadership and other ministries, helping cultivate buy-in from your entire church for your small group vision and mission. So it’s important that every C-Team member “gets” the big picture of your ministry, is able to relate well with other influencers, and positively impacts your church culture.

As the structure of this book reflects, I think of small group ministry planning in terms of five phases or “home” areas (chapters 5–9)—connecting, growing, investing, reaching and sustaining. I recommend recruiting C-Team members who specialize in different aspects of ministry planning and development, ideally matching each member’s responsibilities with his or her passions, experience and gifting. This is where you become a human resources expert, finding the best person to help you strategize and execute your plans in one aspect of your ministry strategy.

For example, ideal C-Team members specializing in the connecting phase may be especially talented at creating cohesive groups. Though they are encouraging relationships within all groups, they themselves are likely to have energetic, “magnetic” personalities that draw the unconnected people. They love customer service and follow-up. They can easily adjust to various situations and can read the room effectively to help everyone feel welcome. Does this bring anyone to your mind? Jot down any likely names below. Commit to praying about them and whether to invite them to the team.

You may want to come back to this part of the book after you have read the questions each phase entails. As you read those chapters, come back and think of a name for your C-Team member if one doesn’t come to mind now.

I cannot overstate the importance of prayer in this. Pray for wisdom as the Lord brings people to your mind. Review each distinct area of ministry responsibility, and pray for the Lord’s wisdom to bring the right person for that job. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find everyone right away. Take your time, and let God reveal who he wants to bring alongside you.

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Excerpted from Planning Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Copyright 2018. Used by permission.