Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part article. Click here to read about the Silo Funnel and the Fishing Pond funnel.
The Farm System Funnel
The first two funnel strategies utilize feeder systems within the church to form small groups. In the Farm System Funnel, groups develop their own feeder system from their spheres of influence. That includes people both in and out of the church: extended family, school mates, neighbors, PTO members, co-workers, and so on.
Many times these groups are church-sponsored but operate in a decentralized fashion. Examples are: house churches, workplace small groups, neighborhood groups, or even internet-based social networking groups. The farm system focuses on establishing relationships first, and then inviting people to join the group.
The Farm System Funnel builds oneness much more organically than the other strategies. This funnel has a broader opening and can potentially bring a wider variety of people together. There are a couple distinctives of this strategy. First, oneness comes more from proximity than affinity. In other strategies, affinity or common spiritual heritage brings groups together, but in the Farm System Funnel your broader sphere of influence drives who is in the group. Second, this strategy requires group members to have a different paradigm. Groups have much more ministry ownership in the overall process of spiritual development, rather than seeing it as "the church's job."
The Farm System Funnel is less effective in situations where established members have their whole relational network within the church congregation itself. Establishing relationships with unchurched people is time-intensive. A heavy "church" activity calendar is a barrier to establishing these relationships.
Leadership support takes on a slightly different form with this strategy. Because group leaders function more independently, they need strong relational mentors who can be spiritual guides more than just assigned coaches who check in occasionally to make sure everything is okay.
Farm System Funnel—Confessions of a Small-Group Director
"My experience is that when groups form and grow with a mixture of new believers and more mature Christ followers, the oneness is more rich and genuine than in other systems. We find intergenerational diversity is also a plus in our system.
"New leaders generally come from within existing groups. I have found that instilling values of new leader multiplication and outreach is easier in first generation groups, but more difficult in second and third generation groups. Also, in our paradigm, when a group forms apart from the larger church, I have found that getting these new small-group members to attend large-group activities—like worship services—sometimes becomes as much of a challenge as getting large-group attenders to connect to small groups in a centralized paradigm.
"Regardless of the big church connection, I find our group members are very committed to their group and well equipped and motivated to minister to one another."
—Randy, from Texas
So Which Funnel Do You Need?
As you evaluate which funnel to use in your church, realize that you will likely have some of all three strategies (and hybrids) going on in your church simultaneously. Depending on the size of your small-groups ministry, it may be strategic to use all three funnels. However, here is the key: Don't just settle for strategies that produce more groups in the short term! Instead, make oneness the long term goal.
Constantly evaluate which strategy is producing the kind of oneness Jesus prayed for in John 17. If your current strategy isn't doing that, then change it. And if you do change strategies, keep a couple of things in mind:
• Switching strategies is hard. Make sure you and your leadership are as clear as possible on which funnel is working most effectively, and then go for it with all of Christ's power at work inside of you.
• The more restricted the large end of your funnel is, the quicker your community can turn inward and toxic. The more broad the opening of your funnel is, the more transitional and paradigm-stretching your oneness process will be.
Regardless of which funnel you are using, casting the vision for your selected funnel often and authentically is vital. Make sure your core values of oneness do not change regardless of the funnel you are using. Otherwise, your funnel will become a holding tank rather than a free-flowing, disciple-making pathway to oneness.
—Dan Lentz is an Editorial Advisor for SmallGroups.com and the author of Let's Get Started: How to begin your small-groups ministry (Standard, 2007). Copyright 2009 by the author and Christianity Today International.