Assessing the Health of a Small-Groups Ministry

Ask these questions to get a grasp of the vitality of your congregation's group life.

I smiled a few weeks ago as I read a framed quote on a pastor's desk: "Ministry is hard work—get over it." I'm always a bit leery when someone wants to make simple the difficult task of fostering community in the body of Christ. While this happens in many areas of ministry, one of the most critical areas of small-group development that people often oversimplify is health assessment.

Questions abound as to how and where to begin, what areas to focus on, and so on. Despite the challenges of review, we know all too well that failure to make a regular assessment of our ministry will leave leadership pondering where our strengths and weaknesses lie and what, if anything, we should be doing about it. With that in mind, let me suggest three guiding principles that will help you keep your thumb on the pulse of your ministry's vitality.

Define Areas of Need

First, clearly define the areas needing assessment. Ask this question: "What are the foundational elements of our small-group ministry?" Stated in the negative, "What foundational elements do we ignore?" This is the simple idea of beginning with the end in mind.

If the small-group point leader is not clear on where the ministry is going, it is doubtful the senior leaders are all heading in the same direction. Mixed signals about direction will, in turn, create confusion among new leaders. Once established, however, these foundational elements provide the focal points for assessment. The good news is that there has been some great thinking centered around this topic, and tapping into this think tank can save you literally years of trial and error.

Talk to Everyone

Second, determine the voices you want speaking in the assessment. It is imperative that you hear from every key group within your church that intersects with your small-group ministry. In assessment lingo, we call these "rater groups."

What value does the senior pastor place on small groups as part of the spiritual formation process? How do the officers in your church assess the value, purpose, and progress of the small-group ministry? Has the vision trickled down to the small-group leaders themselves?

It is only after hearing from all parties concerned that you will have a true assessment. Categorize these leader groups and give them a voice by listening to them. You can do this through surveys, focus groups, or discussions during leadership meetings.

Develop a Plan

Third, develop and commit to a plan of action based on the results of the assessment. Your assessment will only be helpful to the extent that you are able to translate a diagnosis into a prescription and then follow through. I find that thinking categorically about the assessment is helpful. For example, ask yourself: What developmental areas of our small-group ministry meet expectations? Which ones need improvement? Which areas can we agree are unacceptable?

In this way, you can celebrate areas of success with your team and church leadership, while establishing a clear plan of action necessary to raise the bar on the weak or neglected areas. The state of your ministry will then determine if you are equipped to navigate the challenges of further development, or if it might be wise to collect wisdom from other practitioners or to bring in an outside consultant.

Discuss

  1. Have we ever conducted this kind of a church-wide small-group assessment? What did we find?
  2. When we assess our groups, what steps do we take with our findings?
  3. Who should conduct our assessment? What are the advantages and disadvantages of having someone from outside the church evaluate our small-group ministry?

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