As one of the books in our local churches’ small groups ministry I used Bill Donahue‘s Willow Creek Guide to Leading Life-Changing Small Groups (1996). The updated and revised third edition of the bestselling (over 225,000 copies sold) Leading Life-Changing Small Groups handbook (2012) helps small group leaders learn the basics of leading a successful small group. Donahue writes for both new and wannabe leaders as well as seasoned leaders willing to learn and refresh their groups.
Since 1997 a lot of material and practices have been added to the book and brought into a Groups that Grow series (Building a Life-Changing Small Group Ministry, Coaching Life-Changing Small Group Leaders and the Equipping Life-Changing Leaders DVD).
The book’s content is revised entirely since the first edition, though the philosophy, leadership principles and embedded management structures are still present. Donahue borrows lots of insights from management literature on vision casting, expliciting mission statement, active listening and getting & providing feedback.
The author practices many biblical principles on servant leadership, surrender to God’s will, the “each other” commandments in the New Testament, providing sounding biblical teachings and spiritual growth. Shared leadership is the biblical norm; leadership is not simply the responsibility of a few paid staff members. Every group leader gets to identify, challenge, motivate, and equip people who will become future leaders of life-changing groups. Other parts may sound theoretical or less close to home, such as a meeting planner, clarifying group values and development of apprentices. It all comes together when impacting your world, caring for each others and fostering group members’ spiritual growth are at stake.You will learn to encourage members and create a nurturing environment where members find rest for their souls, prayer for their needs, and healing for their wounds. You will learn how to lead when a group member is in crisis or needs extreme care. Growth means departing too, establishing a new group. That’s why leadership development and apprenticeship are so important.
Donahue distinguishes several kinds of small groups in Appendix 1, provides many exercises for relationship-building in Appendix 2. Elsewhere in the book you’ll find tens of ideas for ice-breakers and conversation-builders. Finally an analytic method of bible study is given.
This workbook can be used as a stand-alone resource to train coaches or partnered with the eight-session training videos taught by the author, available on the Equipping Life-Changing Small Groups DVD. For those who want to lead small groups with excellence and truly witness life change in their small groups, this go-to guide offers practical answers and inspiring examples.