I’ve had about 4 or 5 different conversations with folks about small group ministry over the last couple of weeks – each one at a different place in terms of what exactly their groups were and where they thought they should be. Some of these people are on staff at large churches, some at small, some are volunteers. But the following list are just sound bites from these conversations that I think are pretty important to remember.
I wish every single person was in a small group. If you’ve experienced a great small group, you’ll be ruined for life. You’ll keep going – even endure bad small group experiences – in search of another great community experience. There isn’t anything like it – having those friends that are closer than family, diving into the Word with each other, praying for each other, celebrating both life’s greatest joys and harshest experiences with each other. It’s true that real transformation takes place in community like this. But…
Some people are never getting in a small group. The opposite of what I said before is equally true. If your first small group experience is a disaster, you’re pretty much cured of that experience. I have a friend whose very first small group was one in which the wife accused the husband of cheating, he admit it because of how awful of a wife she was, and that couple basically had divorce court in their small group for the next 20 minutes. That would pretty much insure I’d never show up again. Ever.
We talk a lot about multiplication but it isn’t happening/not happening fast enough. Multiplication of a leader is work. And time-consuming. As it should be. Here’s what I’m discovering – most small group leaders define their success as – “Did we have a good meeting?” Or – “Are we living life with each other?” Or better yet – “Are we seeing life transformation take place?” While I think the last two questions are important to ask, I want to add one more measure – “Am I discipling another leader with me as I am doing this?”
Multiplication is never going to be a part of a church’s DNA until that question becomes a part of the metric of how success is measured.
It’s hard getting new people involved. It is. Common barriers for new folks – don’t know anybody, don’t want to get stuck in a bad group, don’t know the topic, not a designed end time (for both group and the meeting night). These were some major reasons why we changed our structure and went to the rotation model/Advance model. Yes, you lose some of the ‘stability’ of having a group meet for over a year but you gain a huge advantage in getting new people in a group. I’ll have more thoughts on this in the fall as we come up on a year of doing our Connect Groups like this.
Small groups just don’t work in our culture. I think small groups work. Just look at how many different ‘small groups’ there are in our secular culture – book clubs, bike clubs, car clubs, horse, fishing, hunting, coffee, movie and ad infinitum. So the reality is that small groups work – the question is more about your specific church culture. How important are they to your lead pastors and elders/top shelf leaders? Because if it isn’t a part of their world – it’s not going to happen in the church. Are they important enough to continue to change when it is seen that they need adjusting?
One last thought on this topic – I think the worst thing you can do with a small group/life group ministry is to make the focus of the entire church on that ministry. Don’t misread me – I love small groups, think they are a hug asset for folks. But we do small groups for two main reasons.
Reason 1: To give our leaders a “fishing pond” of people to find someone to disciple deeper, to multiply another.
Reason 2: To make it easier for those new in Christ or investigating Jesus to find the answers they are looking for, to provide relationships for them to grow deeper in Christ through.
Do these reasons fundamentally change how we do them? No. But it does change how we think about them. We see them as tools to help us accomplish our mission of love, live, serve, and multiply. Not the mission itself.