Ask the right questions before you begin or relaunch your small group ministry.

Here is a common scenario in small group ministry…

Your church tried small groups a few years ago.  It was a disaster.  You know you ought to try again, but church members are resistant when they recall the previous attempt.  How can you be successful this time around?

Learn from Experience

First, assess what went wrong last time.  Assemble your team and discuss the factors that hindered the earlier effort.  Here are some sample questions the team might ask each other:

  • Did we fail to get key church leaders on board with the idea?

  • Did we fail to provide adequate training and preparation of group leaders?

  • Did we pick a bad time (in the calendar year or in the life of the church) to begin?

  • Was publicity adequate?

  • Did we try too much at once?  Did we try too little at once?

  • Were people not motivated by the topic/materials?

  • Do a lot of people in our church already experience community in other ways (through family, through Sunday School, etc.) and did not feel a need to add the small group setting to their weekly calendar?

  • Did we make too many rules, leaving the groups with no flexibility to met individual needs in their group?  Did we make too few rules, opening the door for divisiveness or inaccurate Bible teaching?

  • Did we fail to approach God as we approached the launch of the program?  Was the effort an attempt to glorify God?  Did we fail to offer up sufficient prayer?

  • Were there any other factors that might have contributed to breakdown the last time?

Ask the Right Questions before Beginning

After your team has a picture of what did not work in the past, use the same questions to discuss what factors will contribute to a successful launch this time around:

How can we ensure total support from the key leaders in our church?  

If your church has a senior minister, you must have this person's full support and participation in order for small groups to fly in your church. He must be willing to preach about small groups regularly, to promote them from up front in weekend services, and to be a member of one.  If this is an all-church effort, you will also need buy-in from the leaders of the various ministry areas, both paid and lay leaders.  All church leaders should commit to either leading or being a member of a group.

Are we biting off what we can chew?

Are we being aggressive enough?  Are we trying to involve every person in the church in our initial effort, or should we do this in steps?  On the other hand, are we starting too small to make any difference?

Are our members hungry for community?

People have to desire a setting of Christian community before they will participate in a small group.  Does some inspirational Bible teaching on community need to happen in weekend worship in advance of the launch? Will this be special challenge in your church because most people have already found ways to be in community (Through extended family, through serving together, through Sunday School, etc.) and may view a small groups program as a schedule imposition? (This is often the case in small churches.  If so, shape your program around what is already there, rather than adding layers.)

What initial topic and/or materials would capture people's attention?

What is the felt spiritual need of our congregation, and how could our small groups address this?  There are a number of excellent DVD/study guide resources available that churches have used for a successful launch.

How can we make sure that individual group leaders are trained well?

Is each group leader able to create a group setting that people look forward to?  Do we need to create a Turbo Group opportunity ahead of time, a "lab" where every group member is getting hands-on training so they can lead a group of their own?  Do we need to offer a series of small group leader trainings at various times so everyone can fit them into their schedule?  If you are using the "Host" model, do all your hosts understand how to make the meeting place a positive experience?

How can we let groups be flexible?

How can we let each group form its own personality and still be true to our small groups' mission?  How can we keep the rules to a minimum?

Have we chosen a launch date that is optimal for our church's annual calendar?  

November and December do not work in most places.  Late spring and summer schedules can also hurt small group participation.  Also, are there any congregational struggles happening that might hinder the launch of a new small group program at this time?

Is publicity adequate?

How can we make use of the following?
   —Weekend worship announcement time
   —Bulletin or church paper
    -- Website
    -- Direct mail
    -- Banners or posters around building
    -- Word of mouth from key leaders
    -- Teaching/vision casting worked into sermons

How can we approach this spiritually?

The shepherding and discipling of Christians is something close to God's heart, as He makes clear in Scripture.  Launching a small groups program is more than discovering sociological principles.  It must have God's stamp and guidance in order for anything of lasting spiritual value to take place in our groups.  For example, can we assemble a prayer team that will lift up the small groups effort to the Father all through the planning stages and into the implementation?  Could our team itself make sure we spend the first 15 minutes of each meeting in prayer?  Even though our small group effort may have failed in the past, with God's power we can succeed.

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