What's Really Happening in Your Small Groups?
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What's Really Happening in Your Small Groups?

Five things we learned that should impact your small-group ministry strategy

Small-group pastors and leaders need data-driven insights to help them plan out strategic, effective ministries, including their small-group leadership development programs and group membership campaigns. That’s why we launched the Cultivating Thriving Small Groups study. Last spring, we invited churches from around the US to survey the members of three to five of their small groups. Though we’re still collecting data (you can still register your church for the study through February 15), we’ve already learned some interesting things from over 300 small-group members and leaders who have participated in our study.

Here are five insights that you can use in your small-group ministry plans for 2018. These insights have implications for technology utilization, communication strategies, leader training and equipping, and group multiplication processes.

1. Nearly half of groups have not sent someone out to start a new group. Despite all the talk about multiplication and developing leaders among small-group pastors, it appears that many groups simply are not reproducing. What are the implications of a lack of multiplication within your small-group ministry?

2. Group leaders rarely confront members who don’t contribute appropriately within the group. This might be people who overtly act out (such as cutting people off or dominating conversations) or people who don’t offer themselves and their ideas to the group. When these problematic behaviors occur, leaders rarely take the initiative to confront them. They may not have the gumption or the know-how to correct the issues. What are the ways you can help leaders gain confidence in confronting issues and steering conflict toward a positive end within group life?

3. The main way group members and leaders communicate is through texts and emails, in that order. Perhaps even more important, they rarely use phone calls or the church’s website or app to communicate with one another. This means there’s no need to introduce technology that members likely won’t use. What communication strategies are working or not working within your ministry, and how can you best engage your leaders?

4. Group members reported that the most important purposes of groups were fellowship and discipleship. This means that group members did not see evangelism or worship as particularly important purposes of small groups. This may be in opposition to what you want your small-group ministry to be about, and perhaps in opposition to the ministry purposes you express. Would your group members say the same thing that you say about why you do groups the way you do?

5. There are four main things group leaders indicated that they needed help with. Topping the list are how to encourage commitment among group members, facilitate meaningful discussion and participation during group meetings, build relationships with members outside of meetings, and identify good group study resources and curriculum. These popped up over and over again in our research. How does your leadership development plan address these needs?

As we continue to collect data, we’d love to learn more about what is working in your small-group ministry. With the data we collect, we aim to help small-group point people learn how to best lead their ministries. Register your church at smallgroupstudy.info through February 15 to be part of this important study.

Dr. Ryan Hartwig, author of Teams That Thrive, leads the Cultivating Thriving Small Groups Study with the help of Pastor Jason Sniff (pastor of small groups at Eastview Christian Church in Normal, IL), and Dr. Courtney Davis (assistant professor for the Department of Communication Studies at Azusa Pacific University).