Friday, June 24, 2011

More Findings on Small Groups

As you may have noticed, I've been quite excited by things I've been learning about small groups this week, including some research by Jim Egli on what makes for a great small group and some other factors encouraging small groups. Today Rick Howerton finished up a four-part series interviewing Jim Egli about his book and research study on small groups. I'll share some more interesting findings from that series in this post, and finish up next post with some answers to questions I've gotten from readers.

We saw that for individual small groups the key factors for growth were a praying and empowering leader, and group members who care for one another and reach out. But what systemic factors distinguish a thriving versus a struggling small group ministry? Egli found there were three factors including church-wide intercessory prayer and leadership training, but the dominant factor above all others was the presence of an active coaching system, in which the coaches were well trained and knew what was expected of them.

In the third part of Rick's interview Egli shared:
"The research showed that effective coaches do four things: they pray for their leaders, they meet with them personally to encourage them, they get their leaders together as a group to encourage and pray for one another, and they occasionally visit their groups."
The pattern is clear, your leaders at every level must model what they want to happen in the lives of those they lead. In the case of coaches and small group leaders alike, it's all about relationships, covered in prayer, expressed both inside and outside of regular meeting times.

Given this context, I had to smile as I was reading "Finding the Flow: A Guide to Leading Small Groups and Gatherings" and came across this comment: "Generally, leader trainings give a nod to the leader having a consistent personal devotion time or living a godly example for others, but then they quickly move on to skills." Clearly we would do better in our training and modeling to spend a lot more time encouraging personal devotion time, prayer, and the spiritual life of the leader.

But wait, that's not all!?!

Howerton finished with a fourth post with perhaps the most surprising of the findings. Many churches choose closed groups instead of open groups to foster a greater sense of intimacy. What does the research show about this assumption?
"The results surprised us. We found out that open groups actually experience closer relationships between the members than closed groups do."
Didn't see that one coming! They discuss how there is a faulty assumption underlying the idea that closed groups are better. People assume that small group life is all about the meeting time, which is emphatically not true. It's rare to see intimacy in a room with a dozen or so people, and far more common to occur organically, with two or maybe three people getting together informally. In a healthy group, this kind of interaction outside the group meeting time occurs often. In fact, over-promising intimacy as a key benefit of small groups can lead to disappointment, as Nelson Searcy describes in his book "Activate." Searcy sees it as more realistic to consider small group meetings as personal or social (not intimate) space where a reasonable hope is to find a potential friend.

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