God is the God of eternal conversation. The Father, Son, and Spirit live the story of who God is through dialogue. Life and love are found in the midst of such interaction, resulting in mutual understanding and self-sacrifice for the other. The success of small groups doesn’t occur just because ten people gather weekly for a meeting―success takes deliberate strategy while making use of multiple gift sets and leadership talents.
The story of the way of Jesus in small groups is a result of the flow of the dialogue of God into and through the people in the groups. We could use words like community, shared leadership, collaboration, family, and teamwork to describe this life of mutual experience―where individuals tear down the walls dividing them and make space for the Spirit to live into the divine life.
In many cases, the stories told by our groups are limited by the stories told by the leaders overseeing those groups. For instance, if the small-group point person works in isolation and does not collaborate with others, the small-group leaders will do the same. If the pastor works with a team to lead the church, practicing shared leadership, transparency, and delegation, then small-group leaders will more likely lead their groups in community, adopting the leadership style they are taught.
The difficulty is many pastors have been trained to lead in isolation. A pastor learns of the concept of small groups through a conference or book. He or she feels God’s leading to move in that direction. He enters his study to develop a strategy, which he subsequently presents to his leaders. Much to his surprise, the leaders respond less than favorably.
Even when church leaders consent to the small group vision presented by their pastor, implementing the vision can be challenging without collaboration from the leaders. The issues related to leading people into small-group life are too complex for one person to recognize and evaluate. Different kinds of leaders with different kinds of gifts are necessary to ensure the correct issues are recognized, spiritually discerned, and acted upon. Likewise, most pastors do not have the time to give to group development, being called to lead the entire church, prepare sermons, and provide direction for people not yet in small groups.
When multiple people with a singular focus contribute to a vision and strategy, the rest of the church will be more likely to trust its validity. Churches with the most effective small-group systems have developed teams to work with those small groups. In some churches, the team formation was deliberate, while in others it was an informal accident.
Building the Right Kind of Team
The team should be no smaller than three people―any fewer would not make a team. The team should be no larger than seven―any more makes it difficult to manage. Those selected should be people who enjoy working “on” a project, as opposed to “in” a project.
The difference is significant. “On” people like to discover possibilities and search out boundaries of what could be. They see the whole perspective of the project and are good at providing the guidance to the entire system. “In” people like to work within the project. They are hands-on and enjoy the action. “In” people get frustrated when the “on” people begin to discuss ideas, concepts, and vision―they only want to know what the finished project will look like, and what they are supposed to do. If “in” people are recruited for your small-group team, the process will prove very frustrating.