Rick and Susan just moved to town and were thrilled to find a great church. It was a fast-growing church with a national reputation for engaging teaching and community involvement. It was the church to be at. And they were thrilled to be in the epicenter of excitement. The pastor had just written his first of what would be many blockbuster books.
Because they were new to the area and lacked social contacts, they decided to join a small group. The church was large, and it boasted countless groups across the mid-sized, Midwest community. The church had recently invested in a web-based tool to help interested attenders find a small group in their neighborhood. After plugging in their address, Rick and Susan were delighted to find a group literally around the corner from their home.
Rick picked up the phone and dialed the number listed on the website. That's when it all started to go wrong. The leader seemed genuinely surprised that his information was publicly available and was hesitant to invite them to his group. But after some awkward conversation he dutifully invited Rick and Susan to try out the group.
"I knew it wasn't going to be good the minute we arrived." Rick told me several months later. Other than the initial greeting from the host, everyone else in the group treated Rick and Susan like they were ghosts. Conversations took place around them, but no one personally interacted with the newest members of the group.
When they finally circled up for the group meeting, it still seemed like the new couple was invisible. Rick tried to make a few contributions but there was little response to his input. Not surprisingly Rick and Susan never returned to that group. In fact, it was the end of their experience with that church. And the group leader never followed up. It was an epic small-group fail.
Eventually Rick and Susan found their way to the church I was serving at that time. As he relayed the story of his group experience, I was shocked. I hate to see small groups not fulfill the basics. On top of that, the small group missed out on getting to know a great couple. Rick was a seminary graduate and moved to town to serve as chaplain of a minor league sports team. That small group truly missed out.
Stories like that are why some churches embrace what's referred to as a High Control Model for small groups. Emanating from a deep desire to achieve group life health and accomplish the Great Commission, these systems strive for success through thorough training, regular accountability, and accurate reporting. Expectations are high for leaders and participants.
What Does High Control Mean?
The term "high control" is probably not the most helpful label. Certainly there are some small-group structures with enormous demands (such as G-12), but few churches employ them. Randall Neighbour, who leads TOUCH, has a better way of looking at it. As a vocal proponent of cell groups, Randall says, "High expectation, high structure is [a] much better [term]." These groups are also highly supported.
When considering which group model is the right fit for your church, there are a number of important factors to consider—everything from the culture of your church, the maturity of your people, and what you're trying to accomplish. For instance, if you have an easygoing, relaxed church leadership culture, your group structure is going to emulate that. If you're primary goal is to give people a place to belong and relate, you probably won't put the effort into a high structure group approach.