Saturday, June 25, 2011

Small Group Ministry Planning

After my recent posts on small groups, and the factors that encourage group growth and a successful ministry, I got a few questions and comments from readers. So I'll share a few more concluding thoughts about the implications of Egli's research study and recent book on a church's approach to small group ministry.

Ok, prayer and community are important, but Egli doesn't suggest any specific model?

No he doesn't, and that's why one reason I find the results so interesting. Another excellent resource I recommend is "Simple Small Groups" by Bill Search. The focus there, quite in line with Egli's findings, is that you really need three elements to succeed in small groups regardless of your model. Up (connection with God), In (care for each other), and Out (cultivating relationships with outsiders). I see this Up-In-Out pattern reflected by other authors and small group experts, including Mike Breen and Scott Boren (Launching Missional Communities and Building a Discipleship Culture). For a lot more info on various models to consider using, see Mark Howell's excellent series. And remember: adapt, don't adopt; your church culture is unique.

Does group size matter?

There are a great variety of small group approaches. On the small side, there are leaders who advocate missional groups of three (G3), discipleship triads of three or fourhuddles of six-to-eight for discipleship and leadership training, in addition to more typical groups of twelve. Going even bigger, a powerful new trend is for mid-sized communities of 20-50 people who united in Christian community around a common service or community. (These also tend to use the huddles as well). So really, there are valid approaches possible with any size group system. It's more about making sure that leaders are healthy, intentional, clear, and relational.

What's the role of the senior pastor and church leaders on small group ministry?

Even with a dedicated small group pastor the senior pastor really must be a visible and strong champion of small groups. That means being in a group, highlighting small group success stories from the pulpit, and pointing people to life transformation through small groups. There is really no substitute. If you're wanting to be a 'church of small groups' instead of a 'church with small groups' it's even more important. A small group coordinator / pastor must be on the same page as the senior pastor on vision, expectations of a group, and of group leaders. If people are thinking it's to be a "church of groups" then all pastors and ministry leaders will need to work together to reduce competition, and must make clear the 'win' for people to be moving into a small group. (For more on clarifying the win and improving focus, check out the excellent series by Andy' Stanley: "7 Keys to Effective Ministry".

How do you change or relaunch a small group system that isn't working well?

If your congregation had a system or model put upon them that didn't work, they are going to be very resistant to yet another radical change. Patience is key here, as well as making the effort to understand the reasons why people are frustrated with the current system, and suggesting changes which address these concerns. If the current system can be salvaged, with some tweaks to address felt problems, that may a good first step. If not, be sure to "pilot" any new system with a smaller set of people who are likely to be enthusiastic rather than planning to go with a grand launch.

What other questions do you have about small group ministry? Different answers to these questions, or feedback on this series of posts? Leave a comment!

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