Cutting the Cord

Here's how to successfully "birth" a new small group from an existing one.

First love often seems perfect in our minds—the season, the romance, the memories. For many people, their first small-group experience also seems perfect. They wonder, "How could any group be as good as this one?" That's why birthing a new small group can be a scary proposition.

For those of you who have had a child, your first birthing experience is vividly etched in your minds—crazy, scary, beautiful, awesome, or whatever mix of emotions was strongest for you. What's more, that first birthing experience colored or influenced your feelings about your second child's birth. In the same way, your first small-group "birthing" experience, good or bad, has a lot of psychological power to influence later births with fear or excitement. So birthing your group in the right way will produce a positive legacy.

Let's get a proper definition to start out. Birthing a new small group—or multiplying or reproducing, or whatever term you use for it—should be a local missionary "sending" experience. It is the disciple-making mechanism that has exponential potential for reaching an exponentially growing world.

There are several ways that such a birth can take place:

  • The apprentice leader stays with the current group, while the leader births out and forms an entirely new group.
  • The leader stays with the current group, while the apprentice leader births out and forms an entirely new group.
  • Either the leader or the apprentice births out, and the current small group divides between them to form two new groups.
  • A new group is formed outside of the current group, and several members of the current group break out to join it. (The outside group could be formed by someone who has just finished a turbo-group experience, for example.)

Prepare for the Birth

Whichever method your group chooses, there are certain steps that you can take to prepare for the birthing experience and minimize the pain. First, be sure to start "subgrouping" various parts of each meeting. For example, split into two groups when it comes time to pray, and have the apprentice lead one and the leader take the other. In time, the apprentice can begin leading entire meetings. The goal is to allow each person in the group—over a course of several weeks—to experience having the meeting led by the apprentice.

It's also important that both the leader and apprentice begin looking for new apprentices. The perfect birth happens when both the leader and the apprentice have new apprentices ready to help with the start or continuation of the two groups moving forward.

Finally, make sure the existing group has had time to build intimacy before the birth. Spend time in the group and out of the group learning one another's stories. Take pictures or videos of the existing group, and make sure everyone gets copies. Also, make sure everyone knows each other's phone numbers and e-mails (keep the roster current). Nothing is worse than going through a small-group birth and feeling like you never had the chance to get to know the people in your group.

Have a Birthing Plan in Place

Follow these steps to keep things smooth and healthy during the birth:

  • Make sure the new group leader has been intentionally apprenticed by an existing, mature group leader.
  • Make sure the church leadership is aware of the birth—whether a coach, shepherd, pastor, etc. Also, make sure that the church leadership has talked through the needs of the new group and is ready to offer support.
  • Speak to the group members individually about the birth, and cast a vision for their decision regarding which group to participate in. Everyone needs to make their own decision, and no one should be forced to go or stay.
  • The leader should announce to the group the apprentice's readiness and interest in starting a new group.
  • The group as a whole should set a decision date (for who will be in each group) and a birthing date.
  • Both the leader and the apprentice should offer any help that is needed for group members during their decision making process.
  • Both leaders need to begin an intensive search for new group members from outside of the original group.
  • Have a commissioning ceremony. This means taking time to celebrate during the last full group meeting before the birth, and to have a time where everyone can pray for the newly forming group.

Minimize Post-Partum Depression

After the birth, it's very important to make plans for both groups to get together and continue in fellowship. It's also a good idea to finalize a covenant for the new group to ensure that it gets started on the best footing possible.

Let the members of both groups know that sadness, frustration, and feelings of loss are a common part of forming new groups and new relationships. After most groups birth, there are a lot of strong emotions, and it may take many people months to fully realize the degree of impact the birth has had on them. Both leaders should meet with their group members individually to see how the birth is affecting them.

In the same way, both group leaders need to meet with their coach regularly to discuss how the birth is impacting their members, and to see if any additional church resources are needed to keep the transition smooth.

Eric Metcalf is the Adult Ministry Champion for Community Christian Church and NewThing.

Used with permission of Community Christian Church and the NewThing Network, © 2008.

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