If you want to launch a small-groups ministry in your church, there really are two ways to do it.
The first is to start your own small group, pour your time and effort into leading it, and then watch it grow. As you cultivate a healthy community of believers who grow deeper in their knowledge of God and impact the world around them, you'll certainly catch the attention of your larger church. And, over time, the doors may open for a larger small-groups ministry in your church. This is a more natural kind of growth.
The second way is to launch an official, church-sponsored ministry. This is a "boom or bust" method of growth. You'll still start your own small group and pour effort into helping it grow, but you'll also have the support of the church behind you to give others the same chance right away. In order for this to work, you'll need to convince the pastor and other church leaders about the value of small groups. And in order to do that, you'll need to cast a vision.
This download was designed to give guidance and direction to the person (or group of people) in your church who is passionate about small groups and wants to see that ministry become a core value of church life. This could be a pastor or staff person. This could be an elder or key church leader. This could also be a "regular" group leader who loves his or her small group and wants to see the ministry expanded.
Why Small Groups?
In putting together this download, I wanted to have one article that explained—briefly and efficiently—why a church should consider a small-groups ministry. I was thinking of things like: de-centralizing the church's ministry, providing a platform for leadership training, relieving classroom and parking pressures at the church building, etc.
I asked Dan Lentz to write up this article since he has been such an effective advocate for small groups for such a long time. What he sent back was not what I was expecting. Rather, it was a pleasant surprise, and a reminder for me of the true reason small groups should be raised up as a core ministry of any church.
Casting the Vision
Once you have a firm grasp on the core purpose of small groups and the place of community ministry in your church, the next step is to begin casting the vision in a targeted way. In "The Basics," Eddie Mosley gives a good overview of those steps. And Rod Dempsey provides several more items to think about in "Successfully Transitioning to Small Groups."
One of the biggest steps in this process is making an official presentation to your senior pastor about the vision and value of small groups. Rick Howerton's article (p. 12-14) will help you be as prepared as possible for that critical meeting. It will also give you some direction on making similar presentations to a group of elders or a church board.
And once you've got the support of the church leadership behind you, Tom Bandy's piece on "Small-Group Advertising" will be invaluable in helping you extend the vision of small groups to the new leaders and members you hope the ministry will serve.
Finally, I'm guessing that "But We Already Have Sunday School!" contains some useful information and strategies for many of you reading this. The presence of established discipleship ministries can be one of the biggest obstacles in the path of establishing small groups, and Sunday school is very common.
For what it's worth, here are a few of my own observations on the process of casting the vision for an expanded small-groups ministry. These are just some of the things I've noticed or observed as I've done the research necessary to put this training resource together.
Understand the "why." Please don't look past the "Why Small Groups" section at the beginning of this resource. Before you even think of casting a vision, you need to have a vision that is worth the effort. So, why do you want small groups to be a major part of your church? Do you need more space? Did you attend a conference? Are you responding to a fad? Those reasons won't carry enough inertia to launch a successful ministry.
Know the ministry you're looking for. There are certain elements of a small-groups ministry that really need to be defined from the very beginning. Chief among them is whether individual groups will be expected to "multiply" by dividing after a year or two and producing new groups. See "Casting a Vision for Group Multiplication" for more information.
Other items include: What will the groups study? Will the study material be based on the weekly sermon? What kind of support system will be set up to recruit, train, and encourage small-group leaders?
—Sam O'Neal; copyright 2009 by the author and Christianity Today International.