If you haven't already read through Ben Reed's Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint, I'm happy to introduce you to it. Ben is the small-group pastor at Long Hollow, a multi-campus church near Nashville, Tennessee, and he oversees group life at all five campuses. He's also one of SmallGroups.com's editorial advisors, and I appreciate how he shares his wisdom in a practical, accessible way in everything he has written for us. In Starting Small, he continues this helpful, realistic tone, and it makes for a great book for new small-group pastors and directors.
In this short book, you'll gain a great overview of small-group ministry and healthy groups. Reed starts by sharing his own story with groups, noting that his spiritual growth has taken place not on Sunday mornings but during nights gathered in small groups at various homes. Right away, though, he notes that while small-group point people want to replicate this healthy, transformative experience for people, it's hard to program the messy, organic small group experiences that we love. The rest of the book helps you figure out how to do that.
The Why, the What, and the How
I really appreciate that Reed starts off with a chapter all about the "why" of small groups. Too often small-group pastors get caught up in the "what" of small groups—the specific models and tasks of groups—and forget to communicate the ever-important "why." But without casting this vision, sustaining a healthy ministry will be incredibly difficult. Reed puts it this way:
Setting realistic expectations is important, so that we don't hope for something small groups can never give us. One of the reasons that people get so frustrated with small group life is because they step in expecting something that small groups never promise to provide. Maybe they expect to get another sermon, like they did on Sunday morning. Maybe they expect to be constantly "fed." Maybe they expect to have to do no work. Maybe they want a "deep" Bible study. Maybe they want a seminary classroom-style experience.
When people walk into small groups with the wrong idea—especially about why the group is meeting in the first place—they'll walk away with unmet expectations, and it will be difficult to get them interested in small groups again.
Only after addressing the why and what can actually be expected from small groups, Reed moves on to talk about how to launch a ministry. He addresses starting a test group in your church, which is especially helpful if your church doesn't currently have groups, or you're planning on going in a new direction with groups. On top of that, he gives practical tips on recruiting the right kind of leaders, launching at the right time, starting groups with the end in mind, and getting your church's staff members involved in groups.
Once your leaders are in place, Reed offers great tips for recruiting group members that can work in any church environment. I personally love that he addresses what he calls "Christian Fatigue Syndrome": wearing people out with good things happening at church. Having worked at a church for several years, I know how quickly the church calendar can fill up with various ministry activities. Before long, one weekend can have four different activities that church members are expected to attend. This doesn't contribute to healthy Christians—and it doesn't allow for the needed margin in people's lives to live missionally. To counteract this, our churches will have to learn to simplify and watch for calendar conflict.
Rather than give a specific method or model for groups, Reed encourages readers to start different kinds of groups for different kinds of people, allow groups to form naturally, and even consider yearly campaigns to align your church. More than that, he rightfully reminds readers that no small-group pastor can please everyone, a reminder that's hard to hear yet extremely helpful to remember.
The last chapter gives great tips for leading healthy groups. Reed offers practical points on everything from food to atmosphere, and from praying to having fun together. It gives a great overview of the kinds of things all healthy groups do and can even give new leaders a great place to start.
Who Should Read This Book
This book works especially well for new small-group pastors or directors who want a great overview of small-group ministry. It will give you the big picture of group life with practical information on getting started. Each chapter has helpful questions at the end that will help guide you as you lead your small-group ministry. Plus, at fewer than 100 pages, it's short enough to use with other staff members or your coaching team.
The biggest help this resource provides is a starting point. After reading through the book, you'll have a good idea of the areas of your ministry you'll need to flesh out more. For instance, you may realize you need more information on models or on training leaders. You may decide you need to learn how to implement a coaching structure, or you may need to find better ways to recruit leaders. By the end of this great overview, you'll have a good idea of the next step for your ministry.
Starting Small is available in paperback and e-book.
—Amy Jackson is managing editor of SmallGroups.com; copyright 2014 by Christianity Today.