On one side of the equation we find Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois. They have one of the most tightly controlled small-group models anywhere, and they are very happy with it. The result is that after more than 25 years, they have a remarkably healthy and large group ministry. On the other side of this equation we find Saddleback who sticks to the side of growth, and they have more people in groups than they have in weekend worship attendance.
There are positive aspects about both biases, but in many ways, growth and control compete with one another. So every group ministry must decide which bias is more in step with their DNA. Small-group ministries that struggle are often trying too hard to mix the oil and water of growth and control. You can definitely have aspects of both, but healthy ministries will lean one way.
Think Leadership Second
In my conversations with small-group ministry leaders, I've seen a recurring theme: lack of leadership. It is, in my estimation, the greatest problem with small group ministries today.
In our culture, we look for quick fixes and short cuts. Many churches and pastors are looking for a new group model or approach that will yield faster results. Many are looking for a system that will run itself. Others are looking for ways to downplay the role of the "leader" in groups. The problem with all of these hopes and desires is that they neglect the one thing that makes every model or approach work: leadership.
I've talked to many churches that have clunky, inefficient models and their small-group ministries are thriving. I've also spoken with others who have slick, streamlined models and their small-group ministries are struggling. The principle is this: leadership trumps model every time.
It's fine if you want to call leaders "hosts" or "facilitators." Just don't think that by taking out the word "leader" you've somehow taken leadership out of it. As ministry leaders, it's fine to establish smooth running, machine-like systems for your small-group ministries. Just don't think for a minute that those systems won't require leadership. You must be a strong leader for the ministry, and you must find great leaders to lead in the ministry. Determine what you'll require of leaders and make it clear from the beginning. Then do what's needed to train and support them in their role.
Think Models Third
DNA will help you choose the right leadership and models for your context. As you consider the models that might be right for you, think through several questions. Each question below is followed by a subset of questions that will bring clarity. By answering the subsets you'll find your answers to the main questions.
1. What do you want groups to accomplish?
- Why does your church need groups?
- What is the biblical reasoning for this ministry?
- What defines a "win" for a small group in your context?
- What is the definition of "group" in your context, or what makes a group a group? (e.g., frequency of meeting, group size, mission, purpose)
2. What is the structure/control bias of your church?
- Should your church more often structure for growth or control?