How to Encourage Cell Leaders

Church Leadership

Various authors

Winter 2012

I write articles regularly for Christianty Today’s “” website ( In fact, I’m an editorial advisor for this ministry. Amy Jackson, the associate editor, recently asked various small group leaders for the best way to celebrate, honor, and thank small-group leaders around the holidays (you can see the entire articlehere). Here are the responses:

In the past we’ve had a party at a restaurant and raffled off giveaways. Another idea is to meet at the coordinator’s home and cater in food or simply have an ice cream sundae bar. This year, though, we asked our hosts to tell us their favorite fast food places to eat. We then asked local fast food places to donate gift certificates and sent them to our leaders, thanking them for all they do to reach others. I make a point to thank them for opening their hearts and homes.

—Peri Gilbert, small-group coordinator at The Simple Church

We like to thank our small-group leaders at Christmas in two ways. First, our coaches have the leaders into their homes for Christmas parties. (We give the coaches a small budget to make these nice.) Then we give our coaches and small-group leaders gift cards.

—Jim Egli, Leadership Pastor at the Vineyard Church in Urbana, IL.

Give a personal gift. Find something that tells them you know them and care about them. I had a large number of group leaders, so I couldn’t be extravagant, but I always sent a nice Christmas card to leaders with a personal note, thanking them for their ministry, letting them know I was praying for them (mentioning specific things where I could), and wishing them a great Christmas season. I also sent my coaches a gift card to a store I knew they’d really like.

—Mike Mack, author of Small Group Vital Signs

I would do two things. First of all, I would reserve a restaurant and throw them a thank you party. Then publicly, I would lay hands on each of them during the Sunday worship service closest to Christmas to celebrate and renew their commitment to their small groups.

—Bill Easum, partner with 21st Century Strategies

Cards and gifts are always thoughtful and appreciated, but there are two other great ideas for thanking them. First, you could emphasize the small-group program in your weekend services. Don’t just thank the leaders, but remind the congregation how important being a regular participant in small group is. You could even build a worship service or two around the small-group theme. Small-group leaders will appreciate knowing that their core leadership not only supports the small-group ministry, but emphasizes it. The second way to honor your small-group leaders is with the present of presence. Make the time to do a drop-in visit in each small group. The message you’ll send is one of support and appreciation, and it won’t soon be forgotten. And if you happen to bring a delicious snack, you’ll be everyone’s hero.

—Bill Tenny-Brittian, managing partner of 21st Century Strategies

One of the best things we’ve done to honor group leaders is publicly recognize them in a weekend service. We have the group leaders come forward and have our senior pastor give some words of affirmation for their ministry. I’ve also made it a practice, even with hundreds of group leaders, to write a personal Christmas card to each leader. Often this takes three weeks, but I express something personal to leaders about what I appreciate about them, and I affirm growth in their lives.

—Allen White, blogs at

Since small-group leaders are relational, I like to do something that is relational in nature. So this year, I’m throwing them a party. I’m doing it on a Sunday morning so that they don’t have to mess up their normal routine. I’m feeding them a great breakfast and giving them the chance to interact with other group leaders at our church.

—Ben Reed, small-group pastor at Long Hollow Baptist Church

Jesus discipled the 12 relationally, and we should do the same. When I was in smaller churches I would take people out for a coffee. I would have a meal with my “power” leaders, those who I wanted to take to the next step. If you’re in a larger church, hosting a dinner at your house for the leaders in your care is a win. (In a very large church, the coaches can do this for their leaders.) What I’ve found to work is having everyone bring the ingredients and prepare the meal together. Whether you’re meeting for coffee or in your home, write a note for each leader appreciating them.

—Steve Gladen, Small Groups Pastor at Saddleback Church

Give each small-group leader a resource to use in their group like a copy of the Serendipity Study Bible. Or give them a personal note and include a Starbucks gift card. Tell the leaders that you’d love to meet with them for coffee and find out how you can help them.

—Rick Howerton, Global Groups Environmentalist for NavPress Publishers

Christmas is a busy time so planning an extra activity may not be the best idea. Instead, we’ve thanked our leaders by taking the time to bake Christmas cookies for them. We had several of our staff come together to make, decorate, and package two dozen cookies for each of our leaders. Then we placed a handwritten card of thanks with the cookies and delivered them. It’s a simple and effective way to encourage and celebrate your small-group leaders during the Christmas season.

—Steve Grusendorf, Spiritual Development Pastor of Princeton Alliance Church

We have a Christmas dinner and gift exchange. The gift exchange is normally gag gifts, which is a lot of fun. At dinner, each small-group leader is literally served and given a thank you card with a gift card.

—Seth Widner, Family Pastor at The Journey Church

Sometimes a written prayer is more effective than a verbal prayer. Fold sheets of red construction paper and cut out hearts. On the front, write a verse. On the back, write out a personalized prayer. Present the prayers in a worship service or at a leadership dinner. For another idea, ask group members to write how the leader has ministered to the group. Present these notes to the leader.

—Esther M. Bailey, freelance writer for

To me, there’s nothing more powerful than a personal, heartfelt, handwritten note. This is not just a generic Christmas card that you’ve signed, but a note that you’ve truly put some thought into. Here are some things you might include:

  • Mention a character trait you truly admire about the person. (e.g., “I admire the way you handle phone conversations.”)
  • Describe something specific that makes you thankful for the person. (e.g., “Remember when you volunteered at our small-group kiosk in the lobby for all four of our weekend services? That really made a huge difference for our ministry, and I’m thankful for your time and effort.”)
  • Tell the person about a time when he or she modeled excellent leadership. (e.g., “I recall when you helped one of your small-group leaders with group members who were struggling with infidelity. You handled that with tremendous skill and grace. You weren’t afraid to have the tough conversations, and I’m proud of you for it.”)

—Alan Danielson, Senior Pastor of New Life Bible Church

I’ve found no better way to thank small-group leaders than to give them a gift. One idea would be to have small-group members share what they appreciate about their leader in a card. Then add a gift card and give it to the leader. It’s fun to get gift cards based on the things they really enjoy. This affirms their leadership and makes them feel valued.

—Trevor Lee, Lead Pastor at Mountair Christian Church

I have found that surprise Christmas parties thrown by group members work well. Members provide refreshments or either cook or provide a meal. They spend time telling the leader how he or she has impacted their lives through the small group. Many groups decide to give a gift as well.

—Danny R. Von Kanel, freelance writer for

A creative, meaningful way to express gratitude to small-group leaders is to involve all the members of their groups. Ask group members to complete this sentence about their leader: “I thank God for you because …” Instruct them to cite character traits and leadership skills seen in the leader. Encourage as much specificity as possible. Collect these notes from the group members and put them into an envelope with the leader’s name on it. Then write your own sentence completion and add it to the mix. This could become the most meaningful gift the group leader receives this Christmas!

—Terry Powell, author of Now That’s A Good Question!

In the past I’ve asked small-group leaders to submit worship ideas to use in their groups. With their ideas, I invited all the leaders to enjoy a special worship service together that utilized their ideas. We had a huge turnout and at the end of our worship, we honored each leader for the shepherding, teaching, and community-loving presence they represented. It was an awesome time.

—Diana Bennett, Director of Small Group Ministries at Christ Chapel on Cape Cod

Give them something they will actually appreciate and use: a Saturday night in a five-star hotel while their small-group members watch their kids and clean up their homes. Too expensive? Not really. Just imagine the waiting list of people who want to lead small groups, and it will be worth every penny!

—Randall Neighbour, President of TOUCH Outreach Ministries