As a small-group consultant and pastor, I talk to a lot of church leaders about their small-group models. There are many different approaches to small-group ministry, and choosing the right approach (or approaches) for your context can be challenging. With that in mind, I believe small-group ministry leaders can be lumped into three broad categories.
Many pastors and small-group point leaders are stumped because small-group ministry just isn't working at their church. They tell me about all the great models and strategies that they've adapted from other churches, but they feel like nothing they try seems to work. They can't seem to answer the question, "Why isn't my group ministry working right?"
These group ministry leaders feel confused because there are so many small-group models and strategies that they don't know which ones to implement. The sheer volume of choices and voices regarding small-group ministry approaches makes them freeze up. They can't seem to answer the question, "Which approaches should I implement?"
Some point leaders and pastors are content with the direction in which their group ministry is headed. While they have the drive and desire to accomplish more in their ministry, they have a calm demeanor about their ministry. They're able to make decisions about their ministry easily, and it seems like they intuitively make the right choices. The composed leaders are the envy of the frustrated and the paralyzed because the composed always seem to find the answer to the challenges their ministries face.
Why are some small-group pastors and ministry leaders composed while others are left frustrated or paralyzed? The answer is in knowing your church's DNA. Composed leaders have learned the secret: Think DNA first, leadership second, and models last.
Why DNA Matters
The greatest mistake that many pastors make is assuming that their problem is rooted in a model, system, or strategy. But the problems you're facing in your small-group ministry aren't actually model problems—they're DNA problems. The reason your group ministry is stalled or plateaued is most likely due to the fact that your approach to small groups doesn't match the DNA of your church.
Go ahead and finish this statement: "If it walks like a duck, sounds like a duck and looks like a duck, it's a …"
That's right! It's a hummingbird in a duck costume. Gotcha!
What does that have to do with small-group ministry and church DNA? It's entirely possible that the DNA of your church is that of a hummingbird, but you're using duck small-group models. Just because you dress up your ministry to look like the ministry at another church doesn't mean it will work. That church may have duck DNA. If that's the case, it doesn't matter how hard your ministry tries to walk like, sound like, or look like a duck, it will never successfully be a duck.
Church leaders have a tendency to cut and paste models they see working somewhere else. To build a strong and successful group ministry, quit trying to play dress up. Instead, seek to know and fully understand your own church's DNA.
Understand Your DNA
To discover the DNA of your church, you'll want to consider several factors:
The Senior Leader
Community Christian Church based in Naperville, Illinois, has a great system for apprenticing leaders and creating groups that multiply. I had an opportunity a few years ago to ask COMMUNITY's Lead Pastor, Dave Ferguson, why this model works so well at their church while other churches often flounder with the same approach. He said, "Because this church started as a small group in a dorm room with me and an apprentice leader." His answer had nothing do to with the model. Instead, it had everything to do with the church's DNA. Their model works because it reflects the nature of their church, and a church always reflects the nature of their senior leader (especially if the senior leader is the founding pastor).