The Right Way to Do Small Groups

The Right Way to Do Small Groups

What I've learned from years of small group consulting

Somewhere along the line, small-group pastors formed camps. There's the "Host Model" camp and the "Sunday School" camp. Others are in the "Neighborhood" or "House Church" or "Cell" camps. Small-group pastors proudly proclaim where they reside and who they follow. In our search for the best model for small-group ministry, we've drawn lines in the sand and decided which model is the right way to do small groups.

Instead of rallying around the common goal of life transformation, these camps have divided us. Rather than celebrate the discipleship that's happening through small groups, we're busy pointing out the differences in our ministries.

Some Models Don't Work

Clearly, though, some models work and others don't. Any small-group pastor can tell you that. It's the reason I've been a small-group consultant since 2006. When I meet with church leaders, I've noticed a similar set of questions:

  • What curriculum do you suggest?
  • When and how should I split groups?
  • What new small-group strategies do you see that are working well?
  • How should I find, recruit, and train leaders?

But these are the wrong questions.

The questions small-group pastors should start with are far less intuitive, but far more fundamental. Before asking procedural and strategic questions, small-group ministry leaders must have a clear understanding of their church's small-group fundamentals. They need to know:

  • God's calling for their church's small groups
  • the current and past models and the history of groups at the church (the DNA of small groups at their church)
  • the preferred small-group model and methods of the senior pastor (his or her small group DNA)
  • the expectations and hopes of the senior pastor for small groups
  • what defines success in their church's small group ministry

This is the key to finding the right small-group model—at least the right one for your context.

Understand Your Context

I can tell right away whether small-group pastors know their group ministry fundamentals by the questions they ask. If they ask broad procedural questions first, they don't yet know the small-group pulse of their church. They ask broad questions because they're hoping to throw a bunch of ideas against a wall and see what sticks. This is messy, and it seldom leads to success.

On the other hand, small-group pastors who know their church's small-group fundamentals approach me seeking much more specific information. They already have the tools to identify strategies or models that could work, and they have an idea of which models definitely won't work. This is because they know the heartbeat and DNA of their unique context.

In order to understand your church's small-group fundamentals, you need to answer the following questions.

  • What is God's desire for our small-group ministry?
  • What does a successful small-group ministry at our church look like in 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years?
  • What is our senior pastor's level of commitment to groups on a scale of 1-10?
  • What do I think will work in our cultural context?
  • What do I think won't work in our cultural context?
  • Does our church need or want a small-group ministry that grows quickly with less control or one that grows steadily with more control?
  • Is our church more open to a group ministry with well-defined and controlled outcomes or one with more freedom but less predictability?
  • Does my senior pastor understand these questions and the implications of them?

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