Catholic small groups

Mastering Effective Small Group Leadership

It's that time of year when we are working hard to get our catechists and small group leaders ready for fall ministry. It's hard enough working around crazy schedules and back-to-school madness, it's another thing to get them ready. With a limited amount of time, you not only want to make sure they are confident about the material, and when and where to show up, but you want them to beam with confidence.

When you are the only person on the team and you have to get kids, youth, and adults ministry off the ground, you only have so much bandwidth. So, what are the essentials to mastering an effective small group?

No matter the age or make-up of the group, it is critical that all of your catechists and small group leaders remember to:


If you were to ask most children why they attend your formation programs, the common response would be, "My parents made me come," or "My parents wanted me to attend." As they grow older, you hope their motivations shift towards a desire for personal growth, increased learning, or connecting with fellow believers. Irrespective of participants' reasons for joining your groups, it's crucial to communicate the purpose behind your parish hosting them.

Our intention is to foster a sense of community, reminding individuals that while faith is personal, it is not meant to be kept private. Through communal growth and prayer, we encounter God on a deeper and more profound level. Regardless of the reasons behind your parish's small groups, it's essential to clarify their purpose, offering participants a clear understanding of your intended direction.

An opportune time to establish purpose and expectations is during the initial gatherings. Apart from setting interaction guidelines, encourage the group to express their own expectations. Align everyone's perspectives and formulate objectives. With a well-defined group vision, participants can thrive.


A thriving small group requires a leader skilled in facilitating conversations among members. This leader not only permits dialogue but also encourages active listening. When we listen attentively and refrain from hasty responses, we can glean details from individuals' lives that can guide the group's discussions and studies.

Ensure that your catechists and small group leaders are proficient in active listening and adept at posing questions that stimulate engagement. Lead them through exercises (you can find some examples HERE) that enhance their awareness of group members. When someone feels heard, they become more willing to open up, trusting that your intentions are genuinely aimed at their well-being.


Even if you lead a formal Bible study, possessing some knowledge about participants' lives outside the group can greatly enhance the experience. If you are in charge of a group of children or teenagers, acquaint yourself with their parents and immediate family members. For adult groups, understanding their professions and life situations can be valuable. While it may seem overly personal, such insights are instrumental in fostering deeper conversations.

Additionally, consider engaging as a group beyond the usual sessions. Participate in service projects and social gatherings. For groups involving children or teenagers, involve parents; if feasible, attend their sports events, concerts, or performances. Although it demands extra effort, this investment yields unexpected rewards. You'll discover that not only do they trust and value your leadership, but they also contribute to your growth.


The cornerstone of a healthy group is prayer. When Bibles are forgotten, technical glitches occur, or power outages disrupt the environment, collective prayer can strengthen the group's bond. Prayer shouldn't be an afterthought; rather, prioritize it. Just as with listening, provide your leaders with training in various prayer techniques. Don't assume that everyone, solely due to their Catholic background, is adept at praying the Liturgy of the Hours, the rosary, or engaging in Lectio Divina. Equip them with a variety of prayer resources, underscoring the centrality of prayer within the group.

Age is inconsequential; small group community remains a pivotal aspect of a healthy parish. It does not supplant the significance of weekend liturgy; instead, it promotes liturgical living. Small groups reinforce the understanding that we are interconnected components of a greater whole. They provide accountability for living out the mission established during the Eucharist. Every member is reminded that they are not alone in this world, for God's presence is constant. While small groups aren't a definitive solution, they represent a ministry capable of nurturing disciples who, in turn, foster the growth of others.

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