Note: This article is excerpted from our Training Tool Turn Ministry Teams into Small Groups.
I recently met a small-group pastor for lunch. Our goal was to build a friendship while exchanging ideas for small-group ministry. As we shared lunch, we agreed that how we grouped people really matters, and we had a long conversation about ways that had worked for each of us.
Finding a successful method for forming new groups in your church culture can be a difficult process. It's difficult enough to find stories of methods working well, and then you have to take into account the fact that churches vary in size, people, and location. But trying several different methods isn't the answer either. If pastors consistently change their methods, church members can become confused and lose faith in them. Plus, when people have negative experiences related to group ministry, they're less likely to join a group in the future. Small-group pastors must find a successful method and stick to it in order to ensure negative group experiences are limited and effectively disciple people in groups.
Our church consists of 1,500 people in a rural area near Jacksonville, Florida. We planted the church over six years ago, and we highly value building up families in our church with great resources and reaching out to families in our community on a weekly basis by providing meals. One of the most successful and reliable methods of forming small groups for us has been through transitioning ministry teams. We define ministry teams as a group of Christians actively serving together to assist the church in making disciples. Based on Matthew 28, we strongly believe the church's main purpose is making disciples, so our church's ministry teams are involved in the process in some way. These teams vary in size and task, but they all come together around a common goal. For instance, we have a children's ministry team, a worship team, and more.
Transitioning these teams into more traditional small groups has worked really well for our church, and I believe it could work in your context as well. Here are four reasons you should consider this method for your context:
Your church has ministry teams. Regardless of the context, most churches have ministry teams already in place. This means that you can work within the culture of your church, maximizing a resource that already exists. This efficiency means you'll be using less time to get groups started, and team members can experience a small group without investing much additional time. After all, few people have time for another commitment in their schedules.
Ministry team members already share common bonds. People who serve on ministry teams already have several things in common. First of all, they've come together with a common interest in making a difference in the kingdom. They see a need, and they want to help. Secondly, they already share a passion. Our worship team is made of people passionate about music, and our children's ministry team is made of people passionate about kids. Third, they already know one another and relationships have started forming. They've already spent time together and moved past the awkward get-to-know-you stage.
Connections are happening naturally. A common mistake that small-group pastors make is trying to force friendships between people. We can make the false assumption that we know whether people will make a connection. But even with pure intentions and diligent planning, our efforts of connecting people can still fall short. As people meet regularly as a ministry team, however, natural connections occur and relationships develop. It can feel less forced than simply placing people together in a small group.