Most small group leaders do a great job caring for their people. My heart is to see small group members encouraging and appreciating their leaders. Appreciating the leaders from in the larger gathering is good, but this should never be a replacement for the members themselves expressing their appreciation and gratitude. Members can:
Be specific and personal in their appreciation, stating how the leader has impacted them, what they have done to encourage and bring about change in their lives, etc.
Appreciate the family of the small group leader. If one member is a small group leader then every member of the family is impacted by that. When a small group embraces the leader’s family, everyone is encouraged.
Show appreciation in a very relevant way as they can discover for themselves the "love language" of the small group leader and apply their appreciation to that. E.g. if a leader’s love language is acts of service, then serve him/her; if it is time, then spend some quality time with them; if it is gifts, then personalize a gift.
Bless the children of the small group leader (if they have any): when children are appreciated the parent is always blessed, too.
Bring the element of surprise more easily than a central appreciation.
I am not denying that appreciation from the leadership is of value but, for me, the heart of it must come from the small groups themselves.
As they focus on appreciation, it will also change them to appreciate their leader throughout the year.
Appreciation needs to be a lifestyle, not just a one-off annual event.