Four Keys to Customize Your Small-Group Strategy

Use these practical steps to help re-focus your ministry.

In the same way that you have a unique fingerprint, so does your church. And so does your small-groups ministry. You may have "borrowed" a mission statement and principles from another church, but when you look under the hood, you're not the same. You are unique. You're made unique by the custom combination of passions, gifts, and abilities of your members. You're made unique by your setting. You're made unique by your history.

It makes sense, right? You may not like who you are, your fingerprint. And you may even be trying to change who you are. You may want to be a whole different church, or a whole different ministry. But in order to do so, you still need to understand who you are and who you want to become—and then you can choose a small-groups strategy that fits.

That's easier said than done, of course. So let's talk about four keys to keep in mind.

Clarify What Will Be a "Win" for Your Small-Groups Ministry

What are you going to call success? If you want small groups to play a primary role in making disciples, it would be fair to ask, "What percentage of our members and attendees need to be involved in a group?" Another very good question would be, "What kinds of Christ followers do we want to produce?" "What would they be like?"

And it's also important to figure out where you group members will come from. "Do we want groups to be an entry point for non-members?" Or, "Will our groups be for our members and attendees only?" In other words, "Do you have to be a member to attend a group?"

Identify Who You Are Serving

The next step in the process is to set aside some time to think about who your real customer is (or will be). This is an important step that is often missed. Keep in mind that, in this case, a customer is not just the people who are already part of a small group. You'll also need to think about the people who are not yet in a group. Their interests and needs will be a clue that will help you figure out what it may take to invite them to try a group.

Create a Plan

Next, you'll need to think about and then plan out the steps that will take your ministry to the "win" you've identified. For example, determining that you want 100 percent of your adults to be involved in a small group will require a series of steps in order to make that possible.

Depending on the percentage of your adults that are unconnected, you may need to choose a strategy that can move slowly. If your ministry is growing and you have a lot of unconnected adults, you may need a strategy that will enable you to start a lot of new groups all at once. The key is to be very practical, bring in some nuts-and-bolts people, and really think through getting from where you are to where you want to be.

Identify What Is Not Helping

Another very important key is the tough job of determining if there are existing ministry steps that don't lead to the "win" you've identified. In other words, if you want to get 100 percent of your adults in a small group, and if you've acknowledged that most adults will only give you two or three time slots a week—then you're next job is to determine what to do with the current ministries that might actually be keeping people from committing to a small group.

For example, if you're committed to small groups as the primary way that discipleship happens but you're still actively promoting a mid-week service as a next step, you may need to evaluate whether the adults in your congregation will give you two weeknights in addition to Sunday morning. Or, if you know that a group experience in a home is very different than an on-campus Sunday School class, then you need to think carefully about whether those are two ways of accomplishing the same thing.

Next Steps

This is a process that should be done with a team. Taking the time to thoughtfully work through these four keys will yield a customized strategy for your small-groups ministry, but doing so will take time and persistence. Write out a simple set of statements that reflect your new, clarified thinking—you ought to be able to fit everything on one page, or even a poster. Pull the page out any time you are talking about what to do next.

—Mark Howell is the founder of, helping churches across North America launch, build, and sustain healthy small-group ministries. Used with permission.

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