We tried to paint a picture of the leaders of the church all holding hands and loving each other, but then letting go of one another and moving out to the fringes. As they moved to the fringes, they grasped other hands and embraced other lives and stepped back into the center, but this time with many more people. The core becomes much bigger because we let go of what we have to reach those on the fringes and bring them in. Instead of holding each other and calling out to others to come and join us. We let go of each other and go to those on the fringe and join together with them to become the new core.
With this, the leaders seem to grasp the message of Ephesians 2:12–13: "Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ."
After we shared the vision, nearly all of our leaders were on board, and they signed up to lead traditional small groups, topical small groups (like marriage enrichment groups), or short-term groups (like Alpha).
Casting Vision to the Church
Next we needed to communicate to the rest of the church. We called meetings for everyone involved in small groups (500 people total), and we shared our new vision. We explained that this meant many of them would need to join different groups rather than stay where they were comfortable. While it was difficult for most to think about starting fresh with new people, most people were willing to try our new groups.
Then we started communicating to the entire church. We wanted to communicate our new vision and invite more people to join in. We had a special sermon series, shared testimonies, and even provided special small-group curriculum for existing groups to help them catch the new vision. We also asked for new leaders, and we had 14 new people interested.
After effectively sharing our vision and collecting sign ups, we officially closed all of our current groups and started assigning people to our new groups. We intentionally made the groups diverse and separated long-term group members. When we thought there might be an issue, we had one-on-one conversations to get buy-in.
Despite losing a few people with our new vision, we increased from 55 groups to 69 groups. In addition, we went from 500 involved to just under 700 involved, including 78 people who had never been in a group before.
It's been just over a year since we relaunched our groups, and we've settled into a new rhythm of Life Groups. It was not without its challenges—change never happens without some resistance. But I can honestly say that the Life Groups are healthier and have greater vision and faith because of the process of re-examining why we do what we do. It's our aim to keep the perspective that the win isn’t the existence of a small-group ministry, but rather the specific spiritual fruit that comes through the ministry that happens in small groups.
One of our biggest wins came when we received an e-mail from a group member who expressed a changed heart after the relaunch. He had openly opposed the new structure, but now he believes God placed him and his wife in their new group for a reason. They've been able to minister to some people who are new to our church. He now realizes that Life Groups are not so much about what we can get out of them but what we can bring to them. This is the kind of fruit we were hoping to see, and we now know our efforts to relaunch were worth it.
—Phil Kendon is a pastor at Red Point Church in Durban, South Africa; copyright 2014 by Christianity Today.