I know from experience how exciting and horrifying it can be. In the four years I worked at Life.Church in Edmond, Oklahoma, we grew from 9,000 people to 28,000 people and from 5 campuses in one state to 13 campuses in 5 states. In my first two years there, one campus grew from 181 small groups to 544 small groups! As exciting as it was, I’m pretty sure I aged about 28 years in those 4 years—but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. When you grow quickly, the amount of messy situations rises exponentially, and we needed to implement a plan so we could ensure the spiritual health of the flock without limiting the potential for more growth. Using a rapid growth strategy means leading a small-group ministry to grow exponentially, knowing that difficulties will likely arise in the areas of doctrine, leader training, leader care, and church members’ spiritual health.
Why They Don’t Work Together
Pastors all over the country have asked me: “Can’t we have a ministry that includes rapid growth and high control?" Every leader asks this because they all want their ministries to expand, but they don't want their number of problems to increase. But there are two main reasons this doesn’t work.
First of all, we live in a fallen world. The fact is that our world is messed up because of sin, so almost nothing is easy, especially things that are worthwhile. Do you really think for a minute that Satan is going to leave you and your ministry alone long enough for you to experience tremendous growth with no difficulties?
Second, they are diametrically opposed. Imagine you’re in a church of 400 people with 10 small groups. You want to have enough groups for your entire congregation, so you make a general call for new leaders at weekend services. At first, you might have 30 sign up to lead. The bar is low—they just have to email you. Every time you raise the bar, though, you’ll have less people interested. For instance, require a background check, a leader training event, or a one-on-one coaching session, and your number of interested leaders will drop. Your ministry will have to decide which one you want more: rapid growth or controlled growth. One way to do that is to consider the challenges of each strategy and decide which you’re better equipped to handle.
Rapid Growth Strategy Challenges
Imagine your church is seeing new people become believers every single day. Your senior pastor and church board would most likely want you to launch as many groups as possible, as quickly as possible, and get the maximum number of new people into the new groups. To accomplish this, you might plan for a massive campaign, asking for leaders by saying, “We will help you succeed in starting your group. All we want you to do is host a group in your home. We’ll provide the teaching on video, all you need to do is host the group.”
Rather than have a new leader orientation or a training event, you send a video link that walks them through how to get the teaching video, put their group info on your church website, use invite cards to invite friends and neighbors, set up their home, and guide the conversations that flow from the video teaching.
What could possibly go wrong? Plenty! Some of your hosts are likely brand-new believers. Some might actually not yet be believers! These spiritually immature people are probably not ready to guide others through conversations about morality or doctrine. What if one or more of your hosts are gay? What if a couple who lives together sign up to lead? What if some of your new leaders are spirit-filled Pentecostals and your church is traditional Baptist? Or what if your church is Pentecostal and you have a host who is traditional Baptist? What happens to a soft-spoken host when someone in their group dominates the conversation?