You will find over time that mixing and matching these four tools with influential teams, departments, or strategic leaders will support your efforts to bring change. And the transformation will come over time. You cannot afford to be fooled by early progress, though.
Distinguishing Between Philosophical and Practical "Buy-In"
Building a life-changing small-group ministry requires three to ten years, and churches tend to declare victory too early. In his book on change, John Kotter warns of such a trap, an easy mistake to make.
How do you avoid such an error? We have found it helpful to watch carefully the following sequence:
- Words. People will start to speak using small-group terms before they change their thinking about group life. Their ability to talk community is good in some ways; they have to get used to the idea of something new and different. It does not, however, mean they have changed their mind about a different way of doing ministry.
- Thoughts. Over time they will start to think differently about ministry, groups, leaders—but they still don't believe it. Having the key concepts in mind, including the essential vision, values, and strategies, shows progress. Moving from mere words to a full grasp of how a changed church could function does not yet indicate real ownership, though.
- Heart. It takes time to build enthusiasm for the movement of group life. Each person needs to process out loud (words) so they can make sense of the new vision (thoughts). Once they assimilate it, they can start to feel it; once they experiment with it, they will see how God moves through community. Watch for occasional passion and you will see heart.
- Behavior. The ultimate destination is to alter people's behavior so that community becomes a natural reflex, the way people naturally do life and ministry. For example, when a church member lands in the hospital and she calls her small-group leader instead of the visitation pastor, behavior has changed. When relationships become primary and the infrastructure fades into the background, celebrate heartily.
Many people talk about a "church of groups" but act like a "church with groups." Do not be fooled by what people say. You haven't reached the finish line yet. The win comes much later in the progression. You must make the most of new thoughts and tend them so they grow into a desire for community. As more and more people feel and act out group life, change moves from hope to experience. With God's abundant grace, a team of humble, truth-seeking leaders, and the will to persevere, leading change is possible!
—Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson. This article is excerpted from Building a Life-Changing Small Group Ministry; used with permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.