I came fully prepared with brand new colored pencils, double-spaced manuscripts of our Bible passage, and two containers of freshly baked cookies. It was the first night of small group and my first time leading.
The entire summer before school started, I had prepared for leading small group. I prayed, brainstormed, talked with former small group leaders, and dreamed big dreams about the coming year. According to my plan, there would be 5 to 8 students in my group (the right size for discussion and community building), made up of mostly freshmen girls that I could mentor. I even knew the perfect spot for us to meet – the couches in my dorm’s main lounge.
My plan was going to make for a great year of small group leading. It would, of course, be challenging. But not too challenging. It was a good plan.
Nothing went as expected
That first night, I arrived a few minutes early to the main lounge, where I found 12 students sitting on the couches. All of them were there for my small group.
After fifteen minutes of greeting newcomers at the door, I realized there were now 19 people sitting in a circle, waiting for me to lead. Intimidated and overwhelmed, I surveyed the room, took a deep breath, and passed the cookies around the circle.
We started our opening ice breaker game when two student employees from my dorm informed me that there were too many of us to be in the lounge and we needed to leave. So I led the group to the only location that would accommodate all of us – the parking lot.
The rest of the evening followed suit. Nothing went as I expected. Why did I even bother planning? I wondered. What are we going to do the rest of the year? How are we ever going to become friends in a group three times the size I expected?
In the following weeks, I worked hard to create community by planning events and diligently inviting everyone in my (very large) small group. There were encouraging moments every week, but I still left each night feeling disappointed that my planning and preparing didn’t seem to make a difference.
Then I asked God for help
Then I asked God for help. As I prayed, there seemed to be a clear choice: I could continue planning and striving, or I could simply rest in God’s ability to lead us. And so I began letting go of my plans. “God, lead us,” I prayed. Turns out, God is a pretty good small group leader.
That same semester, people began initiating one-on-one meetings with one another. Soon I was receiving invitations from small group members to spontaneous events that I didn’t even have to plan. Friendships and accountability groups formed. We even found a room in the dorms that was big enough for us. I saw God at work in our times together.
My experience as a small group leader taught me about trusting God. When I asked him, God provided every resource we needed. He made community happen. The best part about it all was that it didn’t come from my efforts. God did the work.
During our final small group meeting of the year, I remembered my first night leading – full of anxiety, uncertainty, and very little faith. As I looked around the circle at my 17-person small group, I just had to thank God for the way he blessed us more – in my case, three times more – than we ever could have planned for.
Lauren Anderson is an InterVarsity student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison studying Journalism and Mass Communication.