Whether you’re a seasoned leader or a rookie just taking the plunge into small group ministry, leading a group can be intimidating. You may find yourself fretting over questions like: How do we decide what to study? What if I don’t know the answers to my group’s questions? What if the personalities in my group don’t mesh well? What if we no one talks? I assure you—these are all legitimate questions! But while we talk often about how to manage group dynamics or where to find answers to people’s questions, one important component to small group leadership that often gets overlooked is the art of listening well.
Becoming a good listener truly is an art, because it’s not something that comes naturally to everyone, and it requires attentiveness and effort like mastering any skill. When leading a group, listening well is one of the most important things you can do for the health and growth of your group. If your group members don’t see you as someone who is attentive to them and who pays attention to what they have to say, then you run the risk of losing them before they ever open their Bibles or trust your group with their personal story. As Proverbs says, “The one who gives an answer before he listens—this is foolishness and disgrace for him” (Prov. 18:13).
Here are a few keys to listening well:
1. Focus on the person sharing.
This is the first step to listening well—and an obvious one at that—but it’s also the step most of us get wrong. Focusing on what another person has to say means not talking, not planning what question to ask next or what illustration to share, and not passing judgments or forming opinions. All of these things create an inner monologue that will cloud your head and distract you from what is being shared. Instead, a good listener is “quick to hear” (James 1:19). This means you look at the person talking, concentrate on what is being said, and pay attention to the underlying needs and motivations for what your group members share.
2. Plan to ask questions.
A great way to approach any group meeting is with the plan to ask questions that piggyback on what your group members share. When you plan to engage with others, then you become a proactive listener, eager to hear what others have to say and engage them in discussion. Leaving flexibility and space for conversation in your agenda helps create an environment where people feel heard and valued. The writer of Proverbs 20:5 put it this way: “Counsel in a man’s heart is deep water; but a man of understanding draws it out.” Be that leader of understanding who listens well enough to draw out truths and troubles in your group members’ hearts.
3. Pray for better ears.
As we already established, listening well does not come easy for most of us, so we have to pray for better ears, ears that are open and attentive to the needs and vulnerabilities our group members desire to share. God has given you the responsibility to lead these individuals during this season of their lives, so pray for ears to hear what they share and discern the spiritual needs going on under the surface. Then remember that we serve a God who hears our prayers and equips us for the tasks He gives us.
Laura Magness is a content specialist for Lifeway’s Discipleship in Context and smallgroup.com. A graduate of Samford University and Dallas Theological Seminary, she now lives in Nashville, TN, with her husband and their 1-year-old son.