Every church that has a small-group ministry must have one indispensable staff person. No, I'm not talking about a small-group pastor. I'm not talking about a small-group administrator, either.
The position every successful small group church must have is this: Senior Pastor of Small Groups. What do I mean? I believe I can say with absolute certainty that no church can have a truly successful small-group ministry unless the senior pastor is the front person for that ministry and its number one supporter.
I've consulted with countless small-group pastors who ask the same question: "How do I get my senior pastor to support my ministry?" What a tragedy! What an indictment! Today I'm writing to you, Senior and Lead Pastors. So listen up.
Don't you dare hire a small-group pastor or launch a small-group ministry in your church if you aren't going to be the loudest voice and biggest supporter of that ministry. Rick Warren sets a fantastic example for us all when he says, "I'm the small-group pastor of Saddleback Church." As a senior pastor myself, that philosophy has become my own.
No More Blame Game
Senior pastors who are not the Senior Pastor of Small Groups in their churches find themselves quickly frustrated with the results of their small-group ministries. They blame the staff in charge of that ministry: "I made a bad hire. I need a major league leader next time." They blame the members of the church: "My people just aren't interested in groups." They blame the culture at large: "Small groups just aren't relevant anymore."
My response to all of those is simple: hog wash!
First, no small-group pastor, no matter how gifted as a leader, will be successful without the senior pastor's partnership—and partnership goes way beyond "support." Second, the people in a church will value what their senior pastor values. When they see a token commitment to groups on the senior pastor's part, they will respond with their own token commitment. Third, people in our culture are desperate to belong. They are naturally "grouping" with people who love them, accept them, challenge them, and care for them all the time. The same "group" formula can be seen in countless shows like Friends, Seinfeld, Big Bang Theory, and Entourage. With coffee shops on every corner, you can't tell me that small groups are not culturally relevant.
Choose a Better Next Step
So, how can a senior pastor become the Senior Pastor of Small Groups? Here are a few thoughts:
Repent. Turn away from your neglect of this necessary ministry.
Live it! Be in a small group and be committed to it.
Educate yourself. Read books like Creating Community by Andy Stanley, 7 Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry by Donahue and Robinson, Simple Small Groups by Bill Search, and Small Groups, Big Impact by Jim Egli and Dwight Marable.
Stage presence. Champion small-group announcements from the pulpit and on video.
Weekly mentions. Mention small groups at least once in every sermon. This naturally makes small groups a part of your church DNA. Tell a story about your own group or say something simple like, "Maybe you need to bring up today's message in your small group this week."
High expectations. Make small-group participation mandatory for staff members and for church membership.
Small-group questions. Write a few small-group discussion questions and tack them on at the end of your weekly sermon notes in the bulletin.
Small-group real estate. Make sure small groups have great representation in the lobby, on your website, and in your bulletin.
Relevant approach. Maybe you think groups aren't relevant because your church's approach to groups is not relevant. Consider promoting groups in coffee shops, book clubs, and online video chat rooms. Limiting groups to classrooms in your facility or to homes is a mistake.
- No small-group ADD. Don't just let groups have your attention when something is out of place or broken. Pay attention to groups all the time. Demonstrate your care for the ministry by being interested in it all the time.
Okay, I've railed on senior pastors enough. I recognize that senior pastors are stretched thin, and that the demands on their time are huge. I also realize that expecting small-group ministry success without making many (if not all) of the above commitments is an exercise in futility. Your time is valuable, so don't waste it by only being partially committed to small groups.
—Alan Danielson is the Senior Pastor of New Life Bible Church in Norman, Oklahoma. Alan is a popular conference speaker and consults regularly with ministries and leaders on topics relating to small groups and leadership. Learn more from Alan at www.3Threat.net.